City Council wise to turn down big pay hike

April 11, 2007

The City Council did the right thing when it unanimously rejected, in the midst of San Diego's financial upheaval, a 25 percent jump in its own pay.

Why, then, did it simultaneously refer the issue to the Rules Committee for consideration of a new salary-setting formula that could tie council members' pay to that of Superior Court judges, who make nearly $100,000 a year more than council members? Councilman Brian Maienschein was the lone vote against the referral.

Granted, the motion by City Council President Scott Peters to send the matter to the Rules panel did not specify what percentage of Superior Court judges' pay would be appropriate for council members. But many council members clearly believe they are terribly underpaid. At present, council members make $75,386 a year, while judges make $171,648. Peters, who is independently wealthy, has declined the last two City Council raises.

Not long ago the county Board of Supervisors handed itself a handsome raise, equal to 80 percent of Superior Court judges' salaries, and automatically pegged future increases to those granted to judges by the Legislature. This not only boosted supervisors' pay but also spares them the politically unpleasant task of voting on their own raises.

We don't elect City Council members to duck difficult decisions. Voters expect accountability in their elected officials, and putting their salaries (along with a fat raise) on auto pilot is the antithesis of accountability.

In our view, the City Council should defer any pay hike for itself until the retirement fund crisis has been resolved. Other city workers also must defer raises until the pension mess is fixed. The City Council will shred its own credibility if the Rules Committee comes up with a revised pay hike scheme for council members while the salaries of other city workers are frozen.