Cassotis’ scurvy bonus

Cassotis’ scurvy bonus

Once wrote Ovid, the Roman poet, “There is nothing in words; believe what is before your eyes.”

The public would be wise to heed such advice upon the news that Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, has been awarded a whopping $154,800 performance bonus for “a remarkable” 2018.

That’s on top of her salary that year of $344,000. Cassotis’ 2019 salary is $365,000.

In announcing the bonus, Airport Authority board chairman David Minnotte cited an increase in passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport and new service, including the return of British Airways.

Of course, more than a few salient facts were left out of Minnotte’s gush-fest.

As the Allegheny Institute previously noted, rising passenger numbers, in general, have been more a function of the improving national economy than anything for which Cassotis can claim credit.

And Minnotte yet again repeated the claim that the British Airways’ flights will have a local annual economic impact of $50 million. But a think tank analysis cast serious doubt on the assertion.

Lest the public forget, it’s writing a corporate wealthfare check for $3 million to the carrier. And lest it also be forgotten, that subsidized “competition” clearly led to Delta Air Lines pulling its direct flights to Paris.

But for all the “successes” claimed under Cassotis’ 2018 “remarkable” performance, there were quite serious failures that centered on public subsidies to a number of airlines that not only failed but failed spectacularly.

The first Qatar Airways cargo deal was a failure unlike few others – incentivized by contract. And in true “Thank you, sir, may I have another” whacking of a spanking, the Airport Authority has signed another contract with even more public subsidies.

Then there were the debacles of OneJet and WOW Air that raised never-answered questions about what kind of due diligence was performed by Cassotis and an authority board that appears not to be wielding great scrutiny over operations in favor of a rubber stamp.

And it can be virtually guaranteed that the coming Pittsburgh International terminal replacement project will be rife with machinations.

That project was sprung on the public with woefully little input and its cost initially pegged at $1.1 billion. Surprise, surprise (think of Gomer Pyle’s country intonations here), we’re now told that price tag was merely a starting point.

And let’s not forget the “remarkable” year of the Airport Authority board itself, particularly three board members having invested in subsidy-receiving OneJet and the board’s legal counsel initially professing how no conflict existed.

Indeed, that all is “remarkable” – remarkably deleterious public policy.

Airport types love to defend the Cassotis payout by noting how the CEO’s compensation is paid through fees paid by the airlines, revenue from parking and concessions and other airport-related revenue. “No taxpayer money is involved,” they always stress.

But the Allegheny County Airport Authority is a public authority and any money it deals with is publicmoney.

Given Cassotis’ 2018  performance for which she has been so richly rewarded, coupled with the gross perversions of the marketplace she has attempted to command with millions of dollars in public money, reasonable people should ask if the public truly is being served — or if it is being treated as a scurvy master.

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