Taxes & Spending

Your Transportation Tax Dollars at Work: 100K for Toll Collectors

“I’m blessed.  I have a great job, and in this economy it’s great that I can cover everything with my eight hours a day and over[time].”
 
In this Obama economy we should feel blessed to be employed, so we salute the individual’s comments above who recognizes her good fortune.  But that’s before you know about what this person does for a living.  The people she should really be thanking are you and me the taxpayers for allowing her to pull in nearly $100,000 a year for … collecting tolls at the booths of New York-New Jersey crossings.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Princesella Smith, who raked in $89,599 for operating the toll lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2011.
 
Smith isn’t alone.  An investigation by the New York Post revealed that another toll booth operator pulled in a whopping $102,670 in 2011, $40K of that money coming in overtime.  In total, as the Post notes, there are at least 24 New York and New Jersey workers who have raked in more than $80,000 as “public” workers at a job that requires us to hand them even more of our money.
 
Yep, in essence, we’re paying them to sit in an outside cubicle all day and deplete our wallets further if we want to travel between New York, New Jersey and the surrounding states.
 
Must be nice.
 
“Any commuter is going to be outraged,” fumed Cathleen Lewis of AAA.  “Any toll increase should be paying for infrastructure … it shouldn’t be paying for excessive salaries.”
 
And there’s the rub:  While commuters are forking over sometimes $10 to cross a bridge into or out of the Big Apple, they see no tangible benefits.  Traffic is never fluid, but rather congested.  (I’m addressing you, the cursed New Jersey Turnpike!)  And roads and bridges are dilapidated and dirty.
 
Where’s the money going?  Rosie O’Donnell’s backside you say?  Good guess, but no.
 
Besides excessive wages to people whose only skill requirement is to sit on a stool and count and collect dollar bills, tax dollars reserved for transportation uses have gone to a panoply of nonessential programs.  As Ronald Utt of The Heritage Foundation points out, the “highway trust fund” has been raided to pay for Indian reservations, historic preservation sites, Appalachian and Mississippi Delta development, roadside beautification, bicycles, hiking paths, university research, and—the granddaddy of all expenses—feeding the $425 million beast that is the Department of Transportation.
 
The Port Authority (PA), for instance, employees a gardener for $94,000 and a blacksmith for $146,000 a year.  Heck, there are even retired PA employees who are making around that amount by cashing in on unused vacation and comp time.  (Here’s an idea:  As we’re facing budget deficits well into our future, how about requiring public employees to use their vaca time … or lose it.  No cashing in allowed.)
 
The larger problem highlighted with transportation spending, as Ronald Utt underscores, is the concept of public ownership.  A paltry 65% of highway taxes collected actually go to making driving a more pleasant experience for commuters.  The rest is squandered on whatever fancies a politician’s spending appetite at a given moment.  As the number of people driving has increased on the nation’s roads and highways (up 71% since 1970), lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and around the country have funneled money to stupid bike lines and high-speed rail debacles.
 
After all, when they get to spend money that they themselves did not sweat for, what’s signing off on $40,000 in overtime and shoveling money to eco-princess-approved bicycle helmets.


Sign Up