Called out & calling out

Called out & calling out

When David Minnotte, board chairman at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, released a written statement in connection with a massive raise and bonus paid to board CEO Christina Cassotis, he said her new compensation was “in line with what other airports nationally and internationally are paying to secure and keep top talent.”

But it turns out that’s a stretch.

It was in January that the Airport Authority board voted to increase Cassotis’ salary by 23 percent, to $534,000. It also paid her a “performance bonus” of $184,500 and extended her existing contract by two years, to 2027.

But as the Post-Gazette called out Minnotte, Cassotis’ hefty new payday is not “in line” with what other airports are paying. In fact, it’s not even close. From the P-G’s analysis of Feb. 21:

“In reality, the salary tops many of those paid by others in the industry.

“For example, the head of Los Angeles International Airport, the nation’s biggest in terms of passengers in 2019, made $384,752 last year, including $6,000 in ‘other’ pay.

“The commissioner of the Chicago department of aviation, which oversees both second-ranked O’Hare and 30th-ranked Midway International airports, makes $275,004.

“Third-ranked Denver International is paying less than Pittsburgh ($266,143 last year). As is fourth-ranked Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International ($310,000 last year) and fifth-ranked Boston Logan International ($360,000 in 2021).

“The director of aviation at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who oversees three of the largest airports in the U.S. — Newark, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia — made $326,014 last year,” the P-G reported.

Pittsburgh International Airport’s passenger ranking, by the way, is 46th.

Continued the P-G callout:

“In looking at similar-sized airports to Pittsburgh, the top executives and their pay this year include Cleveland Hopkins ($303,622); Indianapolis ($343,753 last year); Columbus John Glenn ($391,955) and Hartford Bradley ($344,772).”

If David Minnotte truly believes that Christina Cassotis’ salary is “in line” with the “reality” that he appears to have invented out of whole cloth, he’s clearly out of line when it comes to sound public policy.

It’s also being reported that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Norfolk Southern railroad are finalizing an agreement that will add a second daily Amtrak trip between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

In a nutshell, the state will spend up to $171 million to improve railyard space that supposedly will allow Norfolk Southern freights to clear the main route when passenger trains are scheduled. Norfolk Southern owns the rail line.

That money originally was earmarked for new Amtrak trains. But now, newly approved federal infrastructure dollars will be used for that purpose.

Train station and platform improvements also are part of the deal.

But here’s the kicker, and as WESA Radio dutifully notes:

Amid all the hoopla about the pending return of a second daily Pittsburgh-Harrisburg train — not to mention all the grand predictions that train-starved travelers will flock to Amtrak – that second daily trip and all that money spent won’t cut the nearly 5 ½-hour travel time.

Naysaying killjoys that we are, we are forced to remind that the travel time by motor vehicle between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is about 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Talk about a cluster cluck of wasted money that, all the while, will subsidize a private company and embolden Amtrak, long a wasteful ward of the American taxpayer, to continue to perform at its long sluggish “best.”

Adding Train No. 2 to the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg route is said to be anywhere from three to five years off. But when that time arrives, you can be sure we’ll be back to calculate the extraordinarily outrageous per-passenger cost that might just make it cheaper to buy a car for each and every Amtrak passenger on this route.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).