Montgomery Council on County Salaries: Do as We Say, Not As We Do
This past week Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal and County Executive Ike Leggett engaged in a dust-up over high county employee salaries. For example, the County’s OMB Director ($216,000) and County Director of Health and Human Services ($215,000) both make more than the either the Federal OMB Director or the Secretary of Health and Human Services (both $199,000).
Their shoving match began with the release of the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight’s (OLO) report comparing the county’s 27 agency and department director salaries with those of directors in the federal government, in 10 other jurisdictions in the Washington-Baltimore region and other similar “high-cost” jurisdictions. Based on the report, Leventhal argued that high-ranking county government officials are paid too much.
The report contains much to digest. Among 20 local governments and the two federal classifications, Montgomery County had the 3rd highest average salary for director positions at $206,685. Overall Montgomery County’ salaries were 15.5% higher than the average for all the jurisdictions combined.
After labeling the analysis a “deeply flawed report,” Leggett made a rather imaginative defense of his administration. Leggett’s press release argued unconvincingly: “Let’s assume that the figure of roughly $5.6 million for Montgomery County’s top management is correct. And let’s assume that is 15 percent above the average. If it were 15 percent lower that would save about $830,000 a year. That comes out to 0.016 percent of the $5 billion County budget.”
Not directly addressed in this rebuttal press release was Leggett’s Director of Public Information’s $183,000 salary, both the highest among all of his peers and a full 50% above his counterpart in Washington DC Mayor’s office.
Nevertheless, one can appreciate Leggett’s frustration over the Council’s grandstanding on salaries given their own record. Just two years ago Montgomery County Council members voted to raise their own salaries in increments to $136,258 by 2017. None of the current members who were in office at the time votes against the increase.
The highest paid state legislators in the country, those in California, receive $97,000 per year. That state has fewer legislators than Maryland and senate districts approaching a million people in size. In contrast Maryland state legislators earn $45,207 per year.
In defending their pay, the County Council members cite their “full-time” status. In fact, an open question exists whether residents are better off with full-time legislators or not. The Council’s limited exposure to the real world beyond government results in an isolated point of view.
In looking at the national figures, an interesting correlation exists among states with low legislative salaries and economic competitiveness. Among large states, Texas stands out for having the lowest legislative salary, just $7,200 per year. (Should I point out that on an annual full-time basis, the Texas salary is less than the minimum wage?)
A clear benefit of a “citizen” legislature is that its members more directly share their constituents’ economic conditions. Across the river, the combined salary of all 40 of Virginia’s Senators is less than the Montgomery County’s 9 council members.
The Council’s salary generosity with itself also extends to its staff salaries. George Leventhal sets his Chief of Staff’s salary at $133,000, more than combined salary of Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.
Montgomery’s largess with its own officials unquestionably undermines the contention that the county’s deserves more money from the state budget. For example one currently contentious issue between the County and Annapolis has been funding for “Geographic Cost of Education Index” (GCEI). This aid formula rewards certain higher cost counties with additional funds for their public schools. Had it been fully funded in the current state budget, Montgomery would have benefited disproportionally compared with other jurisdictions in the state. However given Montgomery County’s overpaid legislators, a County Executive making more than the Governor and department heads paid more than their peers, the County has a tough sell convincingly pleading poverty.