Today’s news:

MTA payroll increased last year despite service cuts, report says

At a time when the MTA is cutting costs and service and laying off employees, a report says the agency’s payroll rose to $5.2 billion last year with more than 8,000 employees paid at least $100,000.

One Long Island Rail Road conductor was earning $239,148 when he retired two months ago, according to a report from the Empire Center for New York State policy, a research agency.

Kevin Ortiz, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman, said payroll data showed that over the past year the agency reduced its workforce and held down costs by foregoing management raises.

“The 2.4 percent increase in salaries noted in our report reflects built-in raises provided under multi-year labor contracts,” Ortiz said.

“The MTA’s $400 million budget shortfall for 2010, caused by state budget cuts and deteriorating tax revenues — means there’s much more work to be done,” Ortiz said. “We are in the process of overhauling every aspect of our business, including elimination of approximately 3,000 positions this year.”

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the agency has already begun cracking down on overtime pay, which represents much of the higher payroll expenses and costs the MTA $560 million a year.

After Walder, who is paid $350,000 annually, Helena Williams, president of the LIRR, is the highest-paid person in the MTA at $286,872.

The dire financial condition of the MTA is, to a great extent, the result of severe cuts in contributions from Albany and a precipitous fall in tax receipts, including those from real estate transactions, on which the agency thrived for years.

A 12-county payroll tax enacted expressly for the MTA has fallen far below estimates of its proceeds.

Only California, New York state, New York City and Massachusetts owe more money than the MTA, which owes $27.5 billion. The agency’s debt payments could consume a quarter of its income by 2015.

The massive cutbacks forced on the MTA are scheduled to begin June 25 with the shutdown of the M and V lines to be followed by elimination or curtailment of dozens of bus lines.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or phone at 718-260-4536.

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