When Jay Walder came to New York, he did so from the lucrative consulting firm McKinsey after working for Transport For London. Based on somewhat recent figures, TFL executives make upwards of $800,000, and top-flight McKinsey consultants make even. When he accepted the job in New York, then, Walder, a leader everyone would agree has impeccable credentials, had to take a paycut to re-enter the public sector in the United States.
His high-profile departure, then, two weeks ago came after years of hand-wringing over his $350,000 annual salary with the MTA. High by most standards, that figure is a small portion of what he will make when he starts his job with Hong Kong’s MTR, and New York’s inability to offer salary competitive with international public transportation agencies or the private sector will likely hinder its ability to find top talent in the future.
For months, the TWU and New York politicians took aim at Walder’s salary. He was, after all, making more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo and only $50,000 less than the President. He was also in charge of a sprawling organization that has over 68,000 employees and operates trains, buses and bridges 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Balancing the salary needed to lure qualified hirings against the economic realities of the organization and public perception of high-paid workers has become a tall task.
Still, Albany isn’t helping. Annie Rabbitt, an Assembly Republican from Greenwood Lake in Orange County, has penned an open letter to Gov. Cuomo urging him to lower the salary of the next MTA CEO and Chairman, because clearly that will help attract the kind of people we need to see the MTA through its dark economic hours. She writes:
While I am confident that you are giving careful consideration to candidates – with special consideration to their ability to stand up to the corruption that has long-plagued the MTA – before announcing your appointment, I would like to respectfully suggest that the salary of the MTA chair and chief fiscal officer be reduced to no more than your own current salary.
As you stated during your executive budget presentation in February, in reference to the salary of school superintendents, managing their budgets is certainly difficult but cannot be more difficult than being the governor of New York state.
Furthermore, given the MTA’s request this week to incur another $6.9 billion in debt, I am sure you will agree that restoring fiscal balance to this agency must be a top priority and anything we can do, including limiting the $350,000 per year MTA chair salary, will help send a message throughout the agency that a new day has come – a day that I hope will bring fiscal solvency to the MTA, help restore and expand services, reduce fares, and most importantly, repeal the job-killing payroll tax once and for all.
As we continue working together to reform New York State and restore our economic prospects, I believe this small, but meaningful step will help bring some much-needed reforms to the MTA. I look forward to your response and continuing our efforts to better the lives of New Yorkers, particularly those in Orange and Rockland counties.
Rabbitt’s “small but meaningful step” will bring the wrong kind of reform to the MTA. Instead of sending a message of fiscal responsibility, it will broadcast to the world that qualified candidates need not apply because New York politicians clearly won’t respect your job or reward you for the work that needs to be done. It’s reverse psychology at its worst.
The ultimate issue isn’t whether or not its tougher to run the MTA than it is to run New York State. It’s probably tougher to run New York State than it is to run Hewlett Packard, but no one says its CEO shouldn’t get his $1.2 million. It’s going to cost something to reform the MTA. It’s going to cost something to get top minds in top positions. Until Albany comes to terms with that, we’ll be left with unqualified, independently wealthy political cronies and campaign supporters who haven’t ridden a train in years. That isn’t real reform.