The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is paid $223,500 per year, while the General Manager of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District is paid $318,000 a year. That might seem like an imbalance of pay for public servants, given the very serious qualifications required to become a Chief Justice and comparing the responsibilities involved for the BART manager. It is a fact that the General Manager of BART must manage a huge agency. But the fact is she and her predecessors happen to be managing BART very badly. The agency is $3 billion in debt and later this month its contracts with four fairly rowdy public employee unions will expire, putting BART’s awful management and pay policies squarely in the public eye.
And out of touch BART GM Grace Crunican is not setting the stage very well for these critical union negotiations, where give backs should be on the agenda rather than pay increases at the financially crippled agency, whose salaries are already grossly bloated and whose underfunded pension liabilities are enormous. When questioned about a payout of $330,000 last year for “vacation pay”, paid to her predecessor AFTER she retired, Crunican’s response was more Marie Antoinette than Donald Trump. Paying out the three hundred thousand to such senior public employees “might be a nice reward” for their hard work, she said. Might be?!!!! These are taxpayer dollars, not Monopoly money!!!
Other “front-line” worker salaries at BART are just ridiculous. One of BART’s top-paid station agents, whose job is to simply sit in a fair booth watching fair gates for “jumpers” and answering patrons’ questions, was paid $167,784 last year in total salary, overtime and benefits. The top train operator received $193,407, and an employee responsible for controlling traffic in the train storage and maintenance yards received an eye-popping $271,458 (yet another employee paid more than the Supreme Justice of the United States by BART). Yet BART has the same fiscal problems as most other troubled agencies in the state, including unfunded liabilities for pension and health benefits. Rationality calls for managers to make better sense of employee pay by using comparable pay data, reducing overtime, and reforming pension and health care benefits in the next contract round, and not taking the reflexive liberal position of simply giving the unions everything they want and then just raising the tax burden yet again on the public. That strategy will eventually bankrupt not only the taxpayers – but also the district, but it may be beyond the comprehension of the disconnected leadership at BART.