Christina Cassotis’ big payday

Christina Cassotis’ big payday

It has become an annual rite of critical review: Questioning the repeated, dubious and massive annual pay raises and bonuses for Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. This year is no exception.

On Friday, the Airport Authority’s board of directors yet again did what it does worst – award Cassotis another eye-popping compensation package for her 2021 “performance.”

And the numbers are as astounding as they are nauseating:

In a unanimous vote, the board granted Cassotis a 23 percent pay raise – from $434,600 to $534,000. Additionally, it gave her 2021 “performance bonus” of $184,500, nearly 50 percent of her salary last year.

And on top of that, the board extended Cassotis’ current contract for another two years, through 2027.

Airport Authority board chairman David Minnotte cited a new seven-year lease with airlines, which allowed the questionable (our term, not his) $1.4 billion terminal modernization program to proceed, as one of the reasons for Cassotis’ big payday.

He also cited completion of a natural gas/solar micro-grid to power Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT); growing cargo services; development of the Findlay Township’s “additive manufacturing” complex; the spring return of (taxpayer subsidized) British Airways flights and last, but we really suspect first, the “need” to pay Cassotis a “competitive” pay and bonus package to retain her.

Increased passenger service in 2021 over pandemic-riddled 2020 also was cited.

But some fundamental data that represent chronic fundamental problems at PIT appear to have been glossed over, as a number of Allegheny Institute Policy Briefs have detailed over the years.

The latest came just this month (in Policy Brief Vol. 22, No. 2) in which data show PIT continues to lag passenger counts and growth at a number of comparably situated airports but also when compared nationally.

And do remember that Cassotis previously has been awarded handsome bonuses in years of rank failure. The year 2019 comes to mind (for 2018’s “performance”) when public subsidy after public subsidy to entice airlines to fly in and out of PIT were not only embarrassing failures but exposed some members of the very authority board that awards her bonuses to have financial conflicts.

Cassotis supporters have defended her compensation and are quick to argue that taxpayers don’t pay her salary and bonuses; that money is derived from fees paid to the authority (from such things as landing fees, rents and concessions, including parking).

But by its very nature, Cassotis is being paid with public dollars. After all, she does oversee public airports and is employed by a public authority.

 (And, heck, even four years ago, when Cassotis already was pulling in handsome pay raises and bonuses, the Post-Gazette was making the very same point and questioning the rationale for Cassotis’ then quite high price point.)

Simply put, Cassotis’ compensation is excessive. And that’s not only for the size and services of PIT – Why should her compensation package rival some of the CEOs at the nation’s largest airports? – but for her market-perverting failures (that, in some subsidized-flight matters involved what appears to be astoundingly poor financial due diligence on the recipients).

Once offered economist Thomas Sowell:

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

Or, in the case of Christina Cassotis, thanks to her Airport Authority board patrons, is repeatedly awarded quite handsomely for being so.

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