Over the past month, our Civics 101 series has talked about where elected officials govern, how to speak up on issues you care about, how ideas become laws and how officials decide how much you pay in taxes every year.
And for our final entry, we’re taking a look at how those officials make a living. That’s right, folks, today we’re diving into commission pay and salaries. We’ll look at how much elected officials make in some of the 305’s biggest cities, and at the county level. We’ll also look at some of their recent efforts to get more $$$.
Do commissioners make big money?
For the most part? No, not really. Many municipalities only pay their elected officials an annual salary of $1. Others make a few thousand dollars each year, while some other cities pay them anywhere from about $30,000 to about $60,000. And a similar scale usually exists for mayors, but they often make a bit more than commissioners (and much more if they’re strong mayors — more on that in a sec).
So is that really all they get?
Not exactly. In most cities, elected officials get benefits like health insurance. In most older cities, they pay into a retirement or pension plan (which recently came up in controversial fashion in Miami) that they can then take advantage of when they’re out of office.
Elected leaders also tend to have access to discretionary funds and funds they use for travel and other expenses. These expenses usually have to be well-documented and reimbursed but, since it’s SoFla, this has caused problems and led to abuse by city leaders.
And in cities with strong mayors — those that also act as the city’s main administrator, making hiring decisions and setting the budget — they usually get six-figure salaries (about the same amount of money that a city manager would make).
Why is there such a scale?
In some cases the lower salaries have been built into city and county charters for decades, and elected officials have either chosen not to revisit the issue or they’ve failed in their attempts to give themselves raises. They generally have the power to approve those raises themselves, in votes with fellow local leaders, but they usually leave the decision up to voters.
Beyond that, the scale has a lot to do with the economic makeup of cities. In more wealthy municipalities, the idea is generally that elected officials don’t need the money or perks and see it as more of a public service. In middle- or working-class cities, an elected leader may not have enough individual wealth to devote their time to commission work while also maintaining a full-time job.
So where do things stand these days?
Well, in recent years people have begun advocating for higher pay for elected officials, and it’s not because they want to see politicians getting richer.
They think it will cut down on elected officials seeking financial gains in unethical ways and broaden the playing field so working-class folks feel like they can commit to running for office and doing public service as a full-time job. Many people also think it’s only fair given the amount of time these leaders devote to something that isn’t their 9-to-5 gig.
So what are salaries like in some of the biggest cities and the county?
Council members: $4,800
Council members: $47,910