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.

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  • Liberal Soup N Crackers

    These are low skilled jobs that should not be paying much above store clerk positions. Automate the tolls wherever possible and hire college kids for the jobs at $2 above minimum wage.

  • AgTrotter

    More insanity from our bureaucrats. This reminds me of a couple that attended my former church. She was a college professor and he was a hard-working Philippine immigrant who worked for the US Postal Service. He figured out early on that he could work mega-overtime because so many postal workers were taking their sick days and crazy vacation allowances. He regularly pulled in more in overtime than in base compensation.

    To this day, I applaud his work ethic and resourcefulness. However, to this day, I despise the bureaucrats who created and allowed this type of craziness.

  • Harley J. Spoon

    But let’s name the congresses and the legislatures and the governors and president’s  who are at fault…This may be research, but it is based on not a hell of lot of documentation and timetable info…I’d give this kid a “D” at best for this kind of sensationalist “journalism”…

  • serfee

    You are very right…minimum wage is actually a ceiling and not the floor it was supposed to be. It is nothing but a manipulation of the lower pay jobs designed to keep them poor and reduce competition.
    My friend devereaux explains this well ….but you will have to search for it… …but there are a lot of good reads there anyway…. :)

  • NASAengineer

    I am a Federal Employee (I work for NASA) and just wanted to add some facts to this discussion to help you all feel better about at least some of your tax dollars.  First regarding vacation time (called annual leave for federal employees) there is and always has been (at least for my 33+ years) a limit on the amount of annual leave that you can carry into the next calendar year.  The limit that I believe applies to all civil servants except for the very top (SES) is 240 hours (about 6 weeks).  Anything above that is called “use or lose”, because if you don’t use it, you lose it.  And to help you feel better, it is always surprising how many of my colleagues lose some of their annual leave each year because they are so dedicated to the their projects or job assignments. 
    With regard to compensation (pay), I am an engineer, and when I accepted the job offer from NASA over 30 years ago, it was by far the lowest paying offer I had from over 10 offers.  And throughout the years, I believe my pay has been below my peers in private industry, at least around here in the Silicon Valley (CA) area.  We all stay because it is great challenging and satisfying work, plus it is usually relatively secure.  I am also a taxpayer, and hate to see my tax dollars wasted.  So I am also happy to tell you all that most people here put in way more than the minimum number of hours.  In fact I learned yesterday that on one project that has a little schedule pressure,  is having to enforce a 12 hour maximum per day, and not because of any overtime pay (which they don’t get, they are all salaried) but because of concerns health and safety.
    So please be careful when you stereotype all public employees, there are a whole bunch of us that work hard and do not get excessive compensation.

  • James Osborn

    I’d like to offer a different perspective here. This toll collector is being paid a little more than $350 per day for taking tolls. And how much in tolls does she take in? $5000 an hour and more. Pretty fair ratio for a sales clerk. And I didn’t like your headline, Jason. She doesn’t make $100,000 a year, she makes less than $90,000. A 10% anywhere else is a decent discount. And this woman isn’t complaining or asking for more, she’s grateful. Not bad for a public employee, eh? So Get over it!

  • Dustoff

    Are you kidding me… sitting in a booth making even $80.000 is darn good money. 

  • hicusdicus

    I am beginning to look forward to economic collapse and chaos. That may be the one and only thing that may get the USA back on the road to being a great nation again. I know none of you will agree with me but for the last 50 years its just been Blah,Blah,Blah,Blah and more Blah,Blah and it just keeps getting worse and worse.  Maybe the mother nature of nation building will step in with an asteroid strike and rid the nation of the useless nonproductive trough feeders and greedy lying politicians . Don’t expect God to help. Every body running the government already has reservations and a one way ticket to hell.

  • Ben Poe

    Howdy, I am a State employee with a lot of saved leave time. It is a lot because I am not allowed off when i want or need to be, so the time gets saved. So if I don’t use it, but cash it in for 25% of the value, I am actually saving the state money. I should also mention that I once had a financial planner come out to my house to coerce me into a savings plan. When I told her my salary, she was not able to hold back a chuckle …. she said where she came from ( the State Capitol ), the normal IT salaries were about $30k higher. And no, I don’t make as much as these toll booth employees or gardeners!

  • jagscl

    Right.  They’d have us pay three or four times for the same road.  Look at the experiments in various states of monitoring mileage and having payment by the mile.  First, pay with the gas tax, then tolls, then mileage.  Yet with all these payments you can bet maintenance of the infastructure won’t improve.

    As a totally oblique comment, Govenor Perry just LOVES toll roads; he’d make your driveway a toll road if he could.

  • Ben Poe

    Comparing a toll booth operator to a sales clerk is a bit skewed ….at a store, at least you have the option of saying no to a sale. Not advisable at a toll booth. Captive audience. A sales commission should reflect effort put into a sale. Not so here. The $100k salary might be referring to the “other” toll booth operator …though the headline is misleading in making everyone think this is the normal salary.

  • dbuls1238

    $100,000 for a toll booth operator?  What?  What did I go to a top ten business school for?  I am in sales, and it takes quite a hump to make that much money in sales, taking rejection, incurring car expenses, clothing expenses, bad weather, and many other factors.  And they just sit at a booth and collect this much money?  Where do I sign up for that?

  • Greg Williams

    What’s the problem here?  A $60K base, for a long-time public worker.  The additional pay was for OVERTIME — extra hours spent WORKING.  Can you imagine anything more boring than sitting in a booth all day?  Can you imagine ANY NJ/NY state employee who is generating more money? More power to them both.  Now, the double-dippers, on the other hand…

  • jhg1959

    Well if we didn’t care about how someones hair is (Trump) or (Cain), we really should have a business man running our country. But because we’re such idiots we put in people like Obama, and other POLITICIANS who don’t really care because the money comes from our pockets as the taxpayers. So, let’s quit being idiots and put in someone who understands the fundamentals of running a country,  so we can keep some of our hard-earned money in our pockets so retired politicians can’t walk away filthy rich. Remember, “The Bigger the Government, The Smaller the People.”

  • Guest

    Here’s a list of insanity, it’s alphabetical and deserves your reading.

  • Bama

    The small problem is many people will be happy to work for 60 grands INCLUDING the overtime.

  • Bama

    Nah, it is NOT the toll collector which gathers 5000, it is the BRIDGE which gathers them. If there was just a toll collector in the middle of the nowhere no1 would pay him.

  • Guest

    Interestingly, in the defense contracting industry, a company gets to bill the government for an employee’s earned vacation pay before an employee actually uses it. The company benefits from the float. Nice deal, eh?

  • PatriotDiva

    Makes me wonder why I bothered  to obtain a masters degree. Even with my B.S. in Business, and a Masters in Human Resources, I never attained this level of pay. And when I was in the work force before staying home with my children, I worked hard for my employers, many times working through lunch, not taking breaks, or coming in early to get a project done.

  • justinwachin

    It all comes down to one fact–they aren’t spending their own money.

    The politicians are happily squandering America’s future on their out of control spending. Several things need to change. Tax dollars collected for a specific purpose need to go for that purpose. Someone needs to shine the light on the politicians and bureaucrats who waste tax dollars. Hopefully the light will either shame them enough they will change their ways or hopefully the voters will show them the door.

    Once again we see the real need in our country is to cut spending first. To my liberal friends, we can address the revenue side of the equation in the future, but we have got to get the nation’s spending under control.

    It is time for residents to demand an accounting for where their gas taxes are going. I’ve seen plenty of roads in my region that could use repairs. That is where the money needs to go. The government also needs to set quality standards for the work. In west Kentucky a four lane road was constructed in 2010. The highway department had to start patching it as soon as it opened. Contractors which do shoddy work should have to pay to bring the roads/bridges up to standard. 

  • Mike_in_Wasilla

    Stop at the toll both and pay hommage to government corruption and greed.

  • Guest

    The accounting of vacation pay doesn’t always work against employers, see my post above.

  • deborah stoldt

    While the salary is excessive for what she does, take money and make change (a 4th grade skill) its the benefits. outrageous pensions and the ability to cash out unused vacay and sick days at current salary not past salary. Sick days are for when you are sick, use them or lose them. Vacay should be used in the calendar year earned and not carried over unless there is an unusual circumstance you want to save the days for a wedding or a birth. The days are not your own mini lottery.


    You forgot to add DAVIS-BACON. All govnt bids for public works projects Have the be bid at prevailing wage! I.E UNION?


    You must be employed by the govnt in one form or another or are brain dead. In the real world you could find thousands of people who could make change and be grateful just to have the job! After thought- they would show up for work!

  • M Talam

    While I don’t agree with the Port Authority hiking tolls to pay for other undertaking except the structures themselves and I don’t agree that the toll takers should be making 100k, I do realize that it’s not a great job with fumes from the traffic, so I’d be okay with a salary that reflects the true market conditions of supply and demand.  

  • hicusdicus

    There is not a public employee in the country worth 100,000$ a year. The most over paid is employee number one. If it takes a major financial collapse to stop all this crap . ” lets gitter done”

  • hicusdicus

    The county where I live the median income is 18000.00$ a year and usually requires a lot of sweat.

  • hicusdicus

    Where do I sign up?

  • Redley

    I appreciate your addition to my post  JIMBYONLY..Yes, and the Unions and their prevailing wages.  Very important Point!  

    Over the years I never used to have a problem with employee representation while working in a company, but I felt it should come from a panel of employees who decided matters aside from the management. The panel leader would take the working issues to the management and they would negotiate.

    I worked at R E I for most of the 1970′s and we did things that way.  R E I never had a union.  And wages, working environment and grievances seems to always get settled, while Eddie Bauer,  R E I’s competitor experienced deadlock and lost time and money with the management.

    Today, R E I still does not have a union and Eddie Bauer was sold once, plus reorganized twice under two different CEO’s.  They still are experiencing financial problems today, while R E I is going strong.

    In recent years past, Eddie Bauer’s has hired Jim Whitaker,  1963 Everest climber and past CEO of R E I to help them get back on a financial track.

    I believe the union wages and lack of communication between the management and the employees fall down in disaster when a union is the go-between in any company.

    In the 80′s I worked for the Seattle Times newspaper in the home delivery department where I worked for 7 years.  We were Teamster Union and I made 
    $ 15.50 per hour and they gave me vehicle compensation for my vehicle.  The job was part time 37 hours per week.  This was how the Newspaper kept from paying us for “full time” benefits.

    This was the best “work for someone else job” that I have ever had over my 45 years of working.

    Unions have just gotten “OUT OF CONTROL” with greed is all that is happening today.  Back in the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s’ unions were gaining power.  Now, unions are breaking the backs of the employees, while big union bosses get rich.

    See, nothing wrong with Capitalism I tell people…GREED is the job killer in our free enterprise system. NOT Capitalism.

    Most young people do not understand this because they have never worked a real job before or run a business with employees.  

  • another_engineer

     Yup, the bus driver story in madison is true. And the funny thing is, their routes are incredibly short.  Madison is not that big, but it’s LOADED with government workers due to the University.

  • another_engineer

     NASA ?  OK, for our billions per year you have given us Anti – Seize that i use on my car……. and ?

  • another_engineer

    Then get rid of the toll booths?  Its for the children you know.  The only state around me that has tolls is Illinois and the money was “supposed” go originally go for road construction and maintenance, but lo and behold they have the worst roads in the midwest.  Come to Wisconsin, we have no tolls and our roads are very well kept. 

  • wever96

    I wholeheartedly agree with you! Ive sent money to various organizations, but short of that, I haven’t seen anyone do much, whats needed is action I’m afraid, the physical kind, before we lose our second amendment rights, because they’re at the top of their list right now. Sadly it’s so hard to convince people of that! Well keep the faith I guess W