That's far below Los Angeles, which spends about $1.7 million per council seat, but well above the median of $607,000 for all 15 cities.
"Relative to the other cities, Philadelphia's council is well-paid and well-staffed, although it is not the highest-paid or most-staffed," said Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the primary author of the report.
The Pew report is bursting with statistics but cautions against drawing easy conclusions.
"On longevity [in office], you certainly can reach a conclusion both ways," Ginsberg said. Experienced Council members may know more and be better advocates for voters. On the other hand, he said, "newcomers bring fresh ideas into government and new constituencies, but there is a learning curve, and it can take some time."
On the budget front, Ginsberg, a former Inquirer reporter and editor, said digging deeply into the reasons behind varying costs in the cities studied was beyond the report's scope.
Council President Anna C. Verna issued a brief statement saying that she had not had enough time to review the report but that she believed Philadelphia "has mostly fallen in the middle of the pack."
Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco did not return calls seeking comment.
But Council's newest members - Curtis Jones Jr., Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Bill Green - agreed to talk. They said budget comparisons between cities were difficult. Philadelphia's Council has some oversight of entities that many other cities do not, including the School District and the airport.
"It's not apples to apples," Sánchez said.
They also noted that Council has been cutting costs.
The $13.5 million that Council spent in 2009-10 is 7.6 percent less than it spent the previous year and the least since 2005-06.
Pew's report studied city councils in the country's 10 most populous cities and five other large cities chosen because of similarities or proximity to Philadelphia. They included Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, and San Antonio, Texas.
Philadelphia fared well by two measures. Of its 17 members, 43 percent are African American. All the cities studied had at least two female members, but Philadelphia has seven.
Philadelphia's population is 12 percent Hispanic, but Sánchez is the group's sole Hispanic representatives. Asians, who constitute 6 percent of the city's population, hold no seats on Council.
Council members have held their posts for 15.5 years on average. Only Baltimore and Chicago came close, with average tenures of 13 years each. In the last 40 years, six Philadelphia Council members have died in office.
Philadelphia also has fewer first-term members than any other city council, except for Los Angeles'.
Philadelphia's Council, however, will definitely get new blood this year, since four members are not running for reelection.
Zack Stalberg, head of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said the Pew report could provide fodder for reform candidates.
"In the current climate, where incumbents in any office are suspect and challengers are willing to offer some radical solutions, I think we could hear some very unusual proposals about pay cuts or term limits or about reduction in the Council budget or staff," Stalberg said.
Eight of the cities studied have term limits. Also, the Home Rule Charter forces Council members to step down as soon as they announce their candidacies for another position, which may encourage staying put.
Pay is also an incentive to stay. Philadelphia members' average salary of $121,107 this year is fourth-highest among the councils studied. Los Angeles tops that list, with an average salary of $178,789. San Antonio, where council is a part-time job, is at the bottom at just $1,400 yearly.
Philadelphia's Council budget amounts to $12.17 per resident, more than in most of the other cities.
Philadelphia trailed only Detroit at $14.53 and Washington at $32.41. Washington is an outlier, at least in part, Pew said, because its government serves as the equivalent of a city, county, and state government.
Philadelphia also has consolidated city and county functions, one possible explanation for relatively high costs here. But six of the cities in the Pew study have consolidated city and county functions, and two, Denver and Nashville, have relatively low costs.
Philadelphia City Council has the highest number of weeks without scheduled sessions during the summer, a 12-week break. That was slightly longer than Baltimore's 10 to 11 weeks with no scheduled meetings, and about a month longer than Chicago's nine weeks, the report said.
The report notes that many city council members say they do their jobs nearly round-the-clock, including when meetings are not scheduled.
Only three cities, Philadelphia, New York and Detroit, give council members cars. Most other councils give an auto allowance or reimbursement instead, and it's not clear that that is cheaper than Philadelphia's method, Pew said.
Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.