Loose Lips

Mary Cheh, Trickle-Down Economist?

Mary Cheh Proposes D.C. Pay Freeze

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh caught more than a few people off guard today with a proposal to freeze pay increases for all city employees (except for members of the Washington Teachers Union) as a way of saving about $11 million.

Cheh is proposing "eliminating all within-grade step increases and cost-of-living adjustments" for District employees, which would break some of the collective bargaining agreements the District has with labor unions. (The amount of the raises Cheh would freeze varies depending on which department city workers are in.)

"Breaking the District’s promises to unionized employees risks losing their trust. Nevertheless, in the current economic climate we recognize that shared sacrifice by all is warranted," Cheh's committee report says.

At a committee hearing today, Cheh's proposal was swiftly shot down by Councilmembers Harry Thomas Jr., Michael A. Brown, and Tommy Wells.

Thomas said Cheh's proposal was unconstitutional, and the labor unions hadn't even had a chance to respond to her idea.

Wells said it looked to him that Cheh was trying to find enough money off the backs of the city's lower paid workers ("trash haulers, the garbage truck folk, all the folk that do not make that much money") so the council wouldn't have to pass the mayor's proposed income tax increase for those making $200,000 or more.

And Brown didn't say anything LL thought was worth taking notes on.

What's interesting in this whole episode is that Cheh appears to have just sprung this proposal on everyone, by putting it in her committee report that just came out yesterday. A council staffer tells LL the mayor's office was scrambling today to send Thomas, Wells, and Brown into the hearing to kill Cheh's proposal.

"This was a surprise attack," says police union boss Kris Baumann. (By the way, Baummann says freezing pay STEP increases for his members would kill the police department's recruitment and retention efforts, and he comes hard at Cheh with this gem: "It is unfortunate that the councilmember from the safest ward in the city is completely indifferent to the public safety of the residents in the rest of the city.")

Citywide pay freezes seem like a pretty major policy decision to put on page 105 of a committee report, but Cheh says she's not trying to surprise anybody.

“The only person who got a surprise is me," Cheh tells LL. Cheh begins to elaborate before quickly hitting the brakes: “I’m not going to get into this with you.”

Cheh says the council in its it initial stages of discussing the budget, and her committee report "puts in on the table for discussion.” She plans on bringing up the proposal again when the whole committee meets.

At the hearing, Cheh said the argument that her proposal was unconstitutional was bunk (she noted that she was, after all, a constitutional law professor). She also essentially said "so what" to Wells' complaint that she was using the money saved from freezing government employees' pay to undo a proposed income tax increase for the wealthy. She said the District's financial overall financial health is hurt by its reputation as a high-tax city, and raising taxes on a few is bad for everyone.

“The less fortunate will do better if the city does better and small businesses do better," Cheh said. In other words: Trickle down, Tommy!

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Mary

    Cheh has a problem following the laws of DC, she thinks she can change them to please herself. I assume that the union agreements are not negotiable and locked in place.

  • No surprise here . . .

    Cheh's salary freeze proposal should be no surprise because it is law now. Wasn't it the Council that put this same provision in the Fy 11 budget last year?

  • http://www.zapatillassupra.org/ supra españa

    I carefully looked at the article, and discovered that some of view I can not agree. Do not know why you think so? Look forward to your reply

  • Isn’t It Obvious

    Mary Cheh is a lunatic for making this suggestion. What would have impressed me more is if she would have suggested that her along with all her other city council colleagues stop receiving full time pay for part time city council positions. She is eager to harm the people who have suffered a lack of pay increase for over 3 or 4 years despite the rising cost of living in DC and other places. She along with all of her council colleagues have the ability, and some do, hold outside employment at large law firms and many of them make over $200,000 a year. Her interest seem to be more self-serving than anything else.

  • Pingback: Councilmembers go after FOP step increases again « D.C. Police Union

  • Wrack

    Cheh's just acting selfishly. She doesn't want to get taxed. Boo-hoo.

  • ColorMeSkeptical

    I'm in agreement with Cheh and think it's hilarious that the big dummy from Ward 5 called the proposal "unconstitutional". In the famous words of Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that word means what you think it means." Isn't it about time that we implement a minimum IQ score to be an elected offical in DC?

    I don't expect Cheh's proposal to make it into the budget (especially given Gray's need for backing from the DC gub'ment employees) but what do people expect? Cheh represents the richest ward in DC and has most likely been taking an insane amount of heat from her constituents behind closed doors. She made her bed with her outspoken support during the election for a Mayor who can't seem to do anything right or get anything done at all. Ward 3 residents will see their share of the tax base go up disproportionately and yet the quality of services they receive will inevitably go down. When you are the cash cow that is being milked, you would expect to see something in return for it, no?

    And IMO, Kris Baumann's scare tactics just add to his piss-poor public image. If all cops were making $200k and DC hired an extra 5,000 of them it still woudn't be good enough for him. He's a joke and the rank and file should be ashamed for electing him. He's starting to make the WTU look reasonable.

    It's all pretty simple if you take a realistic look at things. Step 1 is to cut the budget to the bone. No streetcars, no increase budget increase for the Office of Motion Picture and TV development, no outreach and engagement offices for specific constituencies, no 6-figure salaries for auditors and assistant chief of staffs to already overpiad department heads, no cars and drivers, etc. Step 2, raise other taxes besides the income tax (parking tax, etc.). Even then, this won't balance the budget. So on to Step 3, raise income taxes for ALL brackets - 1% for the top bracket, 0.5% for the next highest, and so on down. Even the lowest bracket should have a nominal increase like 0.25%, regardless of how little incremental revenue it adds. If the dipshits who run this city really believe we are "One City", then everyone should be sacrificing something for the way they have mismanaged things.

    Unfortunately the proletariat is once again advocating to soak the rich (and upper-middle class) to pay for their screwups. DC never changes. I for one would welcome our Congressional overlords if they could put the city back on the right financial track.

  • drez

    Yeah, this pay freeze is already in effect except for a certain select favored few. The news isn't in the broad policy, but rather in the exceptions to it.

  • Sarah

    Color me in total agreement with Color Me Skeptical, who is absolutely correct in his/her assessment and recommendations.

  • Lee

    Colormeskeptical wrote: "And IMO, Kris Baumann's scare tactics just add to his piss-poor public image. If all cops were making $200k and DC hired an extra 5,000 of them it still wouldn’t be good enough for him. He's a joke and the rank and file should be ashamed for electing him. He's starting to make the WTU look reasonable."

    Well here the facts, "not scare tactics" homicides are up 10%. Sex abuse, burglary, and theft are all up city-wide. Check the MPD web page for yourself. As the number of officers continue to decline, those numbers will increase. I don't want to hear you and your folks uptown complaining when the response times begin to go up and citizens have to wait hour for routine police service that at one time they would receive in minutes.

    It's disturbing that the councilmember for the people who live in the safest area of the city would advocate policies that would diminish the city’s ability to recruit and retain officer, negatively impacting the overall safety of District residents particularly the residents in section of DC plagued by violent crime. I suggest that Councilmember Chech leave the relative safety and comfort of Ward 3 and visit Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8. Maybe just maybe she would have an appreciation for the negative impact her proposal would have.

    Finally, Colormeskeptical it sounds to me like you may be one of Councilmember Chech's staff members, if you are go back to work and stop wasting the tax payer’s money.

  • ColorMeSkeptical

    Example A) of what can still be cut: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/may/11/grays-campaign-consultant-earned-more-reported/

    Saw this posted in the comments of another story and it fully backs up my point above. I know this lady has resigned but I'm sure there are at least a handful of other salaried positions still in existance that provide little to no tangible benefit to the ordinary taxpayer. Why on earth should taxpayers be footing the $98k salary (and additional $25k in benefits) for a special assistant to the CHIEF OF STAFF of the Dept of Parks and Rec? What does someone in this position actually do? So now we need to pay for the Chief of Staff to have a Chief of Staff? FFS.

    On another note, good to see the adminsitration lied about her salary only being $65k. Come on Cheh, put some teeth in your special commission. To paraphrase Red, "get busy issuing more subpeonas, or get busy dying."

  • http://www.charlenelockwood.com Edgy DC

    There's no doubt the budget can be trimmed in many places. But closing our shelters is disgraceful, deadly, and fiscally unwise, as it will impact safety, transferring many shelter residents into jail residents and emergancy care recipients, and decrease livability in the city, making it less attractive to taxpayers.

  • Lee

    ColorMeSkeptical: Those are not valid comparisons! Remember this article is about Councilmember Chech's proposal to freeze D.C. government employee’s salaries and in grade/step increases. The people referred to in the Times article are all appointees of the Mayor (expected service or management supervisory service not career service employees). Remember career service employees have a known wage scale that is publically available. Expected Service employees, management supervisory service and political appointees salaries are established when they are hired.

  • ColorMeSkeptical

    @Lee - I don't live uptown, I live in W6. I don't work for the DC gov or for any council member, nor do I have any political connections whatsoever. I'm an independent voter but am registered Dem in DC to make sure my vote actually counts.

    Without wishing to turn this into a public sector vs private sector Tea Party extravaganza, I don't think it is being overly harsh to ask DC govt employees to forego within-grade step increases and cost of living adjustments until the economy recovers and tax revenues perk back up. I don't know of many friends in the private sector who have been given these in the past 3 years so why should the public sector be any different? Do you, Lee, expect to get a non-performance-based pay increase even if your job responsibilities have not changed? Isn't that a little bit ridiculous? I also don't have any economic data that supports/rejects whether the cost of living in DC has even gone up in the past 3 years. Has it?

    I could also argue that your (and Baumann's) contention that this proposal would "diminish the city’s ability to recruit and retain officers, negatively impacting the overall safety of District residents" is totally backwards. It could be argued that if we stop handing out within-grade step increases and COL adjustments, maybe the city could afford to hire MORE officers with that money, rather than just giving it to existing officers to do their regular job. Perhaps we could even hire officers that LIVE IN DC and maybe even find qualified people that are currently unemployed, both of which would help grow the city's revenue base. Crazy thinking, right?

    Or I could be totally wrong. Baumann might NOT be solely concerned with protecting the financial livelihood and beenfits of the existing MPD officers - you know, the people who elect him and pay his salary. Riiiiiiiiight.

  • ColorMeSkeptical

    @Lee 11:14, you are correct, my original post combined the reporting of the pay freeze with my own thoughts on what else could still be done before income taxes are raised. I stand by all my points. 1) Cut costs, 2) look for additional revenue additions. Only after 1 and 2 should you look to do 3) increase income taxes. And if you are going to increase income taxes, it should effect everyone even if it is disproportionate. Hence the declining scale.

    My point re: the Times article was that there are people in DC government, in excepted service as well as career service, that are being paid for jobs that provide little to no tangible benefit to the taxpayers. Why does the Chief of Staff to the head of DPR need a Chief of Staff of his/her own? How many people report to the original Chief of Staff that he needs someone else to manage this interaction? Was there a huge increase in the scope of DPR operations planned for 2011? If so, maybe it the position justified. But like my name says, color me skeptical.

  • Lee

    ColorMeSkeptical: I would suggest that you study the history of this issue. Years ago when the MPD had trouble meeting its recruiting and retention goals, one of the issues was the slow rate with which Step increases were given. To compete with the surrounding agencies, the District modified its step compression rate.

    You contend that if the District withheld the Steps and COLA they should have the money to hire more officers. The savings would not provide enough to hire the amount of officers needed to stabilize the organization. I would suggest the Council including Ms. Chech perform their oversight function and hold the executive and his agency heads accountable for being $48 M over budget and we are only in May. Don't punish the work force for the bad decision making of it's leadership.

    Just to be clear, step increases are not automatic; if the person does not receive a satisfactory performance rating they are not eligible for a step increase.

  • ColorMeSkeptical

    @Lee 11:53, You may have a point, I'm obviously not deep inside the issue as you are. And I agree with you that it's not necessarily the MPD that is responsible for the mess it finds itself in. My issue with the FOP head's comment is that in the past 9 months I have yet to hear a positive statement from him. It is always the fault of the mayor, or the council, or Chief Lanier. Or that there aren't enough officers, or that DC can't recruit enough bc the salaries offered are too low, or that current officers aren't paid enough, or that withholding the step increases and COLA = MORE CRIME. I get that he is a union chief who is only concerned with the welfare of his dues-paying members. I don't even argue that the MPD should have a union, they should. But all of his press smacks of political posturing and bad theater to me.

    To your last point, do you know the breakdown of how many officers are rated "Satisfactory" or better each year? Who makes that decision, another memeber of the FOP or an independent HR arbitrator? What are the performance criteria? Is this an opaque system similar to the old DCPS where < 3% of teachers were rated "not satisfactory" or the equivalent? If over 90% of employees are rated satisfactory or better then you have to admit the step increases are almost automatic by default.

  • MPD Vet

    @Color me skeptical. May be you have not been following the issue long enough to know that the FOP and Baumann have be telling the City and MPD for years that they have issues with recruiting and retention. This was before the current economic situation. Now that the Chief has admitted there is a man power problem people are talking about and everyone is concerned. The fact that Baumann and Lanier actually agree on this point is a miracle in and of itself. The economy is just compounding this issue. As to you your question about who make the decisions concerning performance ratings, the answer is Management. They sign off on it and approve it. So, if you take a look at the issues of recruiting and retention.

    First, the recruiting issue. Some older, unemployed professional is going to take the job because it's the only one he can find. He’ll do a great job and he stick around just long enough to line up another higher paying private sector walk away from the fine working conditions MPD has to offer. A midnight shift, Wednesdays & Thursdays off. Not enough time with their family. A constantly shifting work schedule because there is some major event happening somewhere in the district and your tour of duty and days off change. Not to mention the admiration of numerous citizens who believe that they know how to do your job because they just got off the couch watching the latest episode of CSI or NCIS. Then you get to hear great one liners like, “Do you know who I am?" or "I know insert political figure’s name here ___________". And you can add that to the fact that you have not had a negotiated contract in the last 4 years. Makes a great recruiting campaign!

    The second is retention. You can't keep senior people because the agency and the city are a mess, 1000 members of the police department are eligible to retire in the next (4) years. The young officers you maybe able to hire initially are swallowed by other local, state and federal agencies who offer better working conditions and higher pay. Gee, It just paradise here. If you think the city can hire and retain more people then that in the next (4) years you are not well versed on the subject.

    That coupled with the fact that the city has shown that it consistently and routinely does not make good on its word by complying with the law and collective bargaining makes retention so easy! But hey, don’t take my word for it just read the newspapers and arbitration decisions from the Public Employees Relations Board over the last 20 years.

    Finally I would just have you visit some of the services for Police Memorial Week, you might get a sense of what police officers, correction officers and fighter fighters are asked to do for their extravagant salaries. In don’t think we ask a lot in return, just abide by the agreements and laws that are in place. I haven’t gotten a contract raise in the last for years can Ms. Cheh, the mayor, the city council and their department heads say the same? Don’t think so!

  • Lee

    ColorMeSkeptical: Your assertion that Chairman Baumann has been completely negative is factually incorrect. I'm not sure how closely you have been monitoring his position on issues affecting the District’s fiscal health, public safety, professionalization of the MPD, providing incentives for members to stay with MPD (educational incentives, alternate shifts). In addition, he has supported council members and the chief of police on policies when he believes they were the correct thing to do (secure communities, revisions to the criminal code, opposing certain pension reform proposals) even though he has fundamental disagreements with them.

    If it seem negative to you it is because the District government in general is a negative place to work and it is being led by unethical individuals and specifically the MPD is run by fear, intimidation, a policy of personal destruction of those who the leadership perceive as threats, and an unwillingness to follow the law and protect the due process rights of it members. Read the Washington Times series of articles about Chief Lanier's and Cherita Whiting.

    Baumann and his organization have as part of their mission an obligation to insure the MPD is run in a way that is efficient and provides the best service while at the same time protecting the rights of his members. You say you're not sure MPD have a union, thankfully, DC law say it can; if you were to work for MPD you would quickly change your mind!

    To answer the last part of your post go to mpdc.dc.gov there is a section titled "MPD Directives for Public Release" the General Order that covers that subject is 201.20.

    I suggest that you call his office and talk with him you may be surprised what you find out. You will find all that contact information the web google DC Police Union.

  • Truth Hurts

    Priceless dumbass Cheh statement: "Breaking the District's promises ... risks losing trust."


  • Going to the County

    I'm an MPD Officer with 7 years on, prior military service, and a college degree...and I just got hired by another Agency. They were able to match my pay and put 5 of my 7 years of service towards their 20 year retirement. This means even by losing two years, I'll still be able to retire before I'd be eligible to retire had I stayed with MPD. I also get a take home car, tuition reimbursement, and respect from both citizens and management. The sad thing is, I love working in the city...it just isn't economically viable to stick around.

  • dc firefighter

    I guess we should tell the 5 five firefighters who were seriously burned and permanently scarred from the fire they were fighting in Northeast last month that they will not be getting a pay raise/step increase. Oh, I forgot to mention,they have not had a ratified contract since 2007. What's a couple more years?

    One more thing in case you have forgotten, one firefighter is still in the hospital and was just transferred from the ICU last Sunday. He has undergone at least ten surgeries and will have months of rehab. His salary is somewhere around $60k. Wow!

  • Truth Hurts

    I suspect most commenters here voted and/or rooted for Gray or Cheh in 2010. Cheh lost her way 2 or 3 years ago. And Gray's been a mediocre, transparent player for decades.

    There are both good and bad segments in various city unions, yet I tend to side with the unions on this issue. Council members and mayoral appointees should pay their taxes/fines/liens/debts. Next, they should reduce their own salaries and perks. Only then should their proposed budget cuts be seriously debated.