Hot off the heels of a report from the Salt Lake Tribune that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) doubled the bonuses company executives received last year, the agency defended its lavish salaries and bonuses on Twitter Sunday night.
Not only did UTA hand out $1.7 million in bonuses to company executives in 2013—with some individuals receiving $30,000, a bonus higher than the annual salary of some employees at UTA—but UTA also recently went to the Utah State Legislature, hat-in-hand, asking for the State to allow counties to put tax increases on the ballot to boost their budget.
UTA argued at the time that there was not enough money available to fund new transit programs, due, in part, to UTA taking on large amounts of debt in order to finance the construction of rail programs over the past 15 years. An independent legislative audit from January, 2012, noted that debt payments from the construction of such projects “will consume a larger portion of sales tax revenues and impose a financial strain on UTA.”
But the subject of the Sunday evening Twitter debate wasn’t over the bonuses or budget shortfalls, it arose from the lavish salaries UTA executives are raking in. Retiring rail service general manager Paul O’Brien was paid $450,618 last year (including bonuses). UTA General Manager Michael Allegra netted over $346,000—including almost $50,000 in leave and over $87,000 in benefits. UTA General Council Bruce Jones received over $333,000 in pay and bonuses. To put those numbers in perspective, the Governor of Utah’s annual salary is $151,294.
When compared to similar positions in other transit authorities across the country, such pay rates are quite lucrative. The Executive Officer of the largest transit system by ridership, Carmen Bianco of the New York City Transit Authority, makes just under $175,000 annually. New York’s subway system alone sees an estimated 1.9 billion riders annually, and its bus system sees 791 million riders each year. The General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Beverly Scott, who runs the third largest transportation system in the country, receives an estimated $220,000 annually, managing an estimated total ridership of 474 million annually.
Comparatively, UTA only has a total annual ridership of 44 million.
These facts, however, did not deter UTA from defending its position on Twitter Sunday night. In an exchange between the official @RideUTA account and Utah Political Capitol co-founder Eric Ethington (@EricEthington), UTA claimed that “all salaries are based on market value and are below or average for the industry.” Ethington, now a resident of Boston, further queried which “market value” scale UTA was using, as the UTA general manager makes more than the heads of the Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Boston transportation authorities.
The UTA official running the account noted that the link Ethington had provided was from 2010, and that it may no longer be correct. The official then stated they would follow up with Ethington after they looked into the figures.
UTA has yet to respond to Ethington’s request for further clarification.
Here’s the full conversation: