Giving a [expletive deleted] & full of the same

Giving a [expletive deleted] & full of the same

Just after the Friday announcement of the obscenity that is Christina Cassotis’ latest performance bonus as CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, she chose to employ an obscenity to thank her rubber-stamping board for her giant windfall.

“I am grateful to have this opportunity to make an impact on this region and to do that under the leadership of a board that gets it and quite frankly gives a [expletive deleted] (but not by the Post-Gazette) … and that is really focused on the big picture.”

“What a class act,” quipped Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, upon reading her remarks. “Who talks like that in public as a high government official?”

As this scrivener told you to be on the lookout first thing Friday last, later in the day, Cassotis was awarded not only a 6 percent pay raise but, by contract, a bonus of 45 percent of her base pay.

The board vote was unanimous — by a board perhaps best known for members with past gross conflicts of interest. (Can you say investing in an airline that the board chose to subsidize?)

The raw numbers of Cassotis’ new deal:

For 2023, her annual salary goes from $534,000 to $566,040. And, for her 2022 “performance,” she was awarded a bonus of $240,300.

The P-G reports that the raise was “driven in part by the return and expansion of British Airways nonstop to London.”

Never mind that the return was predicated on an existing agreement – postponed in mid-course because of the pandemic — in which taxpayers would fork over the second half of a $3 million public subsidy to British Airways and that expansion was predicated on a previously undisclosed subsidy juicer – a $500,000 public subsidy to expand those flights.

Among the other “accomplishments” cited by Airport Authority board Chairman David Minnotte were the continuing construction of a new $1.4 billion terminal modernization project at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and increasing “seat availability” for passengers in the post coronavirus pandemic days.

Never mind that observers far more astute than us continue to question the need for the terminal project (for which the price tag is guaranteed to grow) and that while available seats might be on the rise (again, some subsidized), passenger counts continue to lag not only pre-pre-pandemic levels but also those of comparable airports.

As the P-G’s Mark Belko further reports, Cassotis’ new salary “likely will keep her among the highest paid airport executives in the country.” Again, that’s even among those airports performing far better than PIT.

Minnotte defends Cassotis’ compensation as necessary “to secure and keep top talent.”

Indeed, Cassotis has had some positives. Among them, working to make PIT an important cargo way station.

And then there’s PIT’s electricity microgrid, powered by fracked natural gas wells on the airport tract and solar power. But there remain serious, if not growing, questions about financial deals surrounding the gas wells and their diminishing production.

Back to our Dr. Haulk, a Ph.D. economist. An astute watcher of government boondoggles – including the activities of the Airport Authority — for decades, he finds Cassotis’ comment “pathetic.”

“She knows her tenure is a lot of bluster and convincing people to spend huge amounts of money on things that are not needed,” Haulk says. “The [Airport Authority] board is full of the stuff she says they give a care about.

“What nonsense,” he adds. “She is now covering for the failures at the airport by increasing the stupidity of her uncalled-for remarks.”

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