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Legislators tell UTA to unveil top brass pay

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Legislative leaders, fearing the salaries, bonuses and benefit packages of Utah Transit Authority executives are "grossly out of line with the private sector," want UTA to publicly disclose how much money UTA boss John Inglish and other to transit executives make.

If they don't, lawmakers could punish the bus and light-rail public entity in a number of ways, leaders said Monday.

House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said Monday that UTA executives have refused to give the information voluntarily.

"We were told to file a GRAMA request," said Stephens, the original author of the bill that created the Government Records Access and Management Act.

UTA officials, however, dispute the notion the transit agency is stonewalling. UTA spokesman Kris McBride said the salary request had been received from the Legislature last week, and a response letter was prepared and ready to be delivered Monday.

"We did not have (the legislators) fill out a GRAMA request," McBride said. "We have not sent that impression to them."

Salaries for all UTA executives are based on a "rigorous policy" that uses a formula that includes transit directors and private organization directors in comparative markets to determine a base wage, McBride said. The formula was reviewed and determined to be fair by the legislative auditor in 1997, he said.

"Unofficial but reliable" sources tell Stephens that Inglish makes around $300,000 a year in pay and other benefits, the speaker said.

If that is true, then something must be done, he and other House GOP leaders said.

The dispute over the GRAMA request could have serious consequences as the Legislature has the power to investigate and punish the transit district, which operates in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah counties.

UTA was created by Utah statute, House Assistant Majority Whip Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said. While it would be "extreme" for lawmakers to consider repealing UTA's quarter-cent sales tax funding, which basically keeps the bus and light-rail system operating, "there are other actions we could take," Curtis said.

If it proves true that UTA salaries are "grossly out of line," as Stephens described it, then the Legislature will want a say in how the UTA board is appointed, Curtis said.

"We have a lot of options. First we have to get the facts," said Stephens.

He later said he's heard that Inglish received a 6.3 percent to 6.4 percent raise this year and now makes around $233,000 a year in salary. Last year Inglish got a $41,000 bonus, Stephens said he's heard.

McBride said that Inglish makes $226,500 and can receive as much as a 25 percent bonus from the UTA board. He did not have details about other benefits, such as 401(k) contributions.

"We're a little concerned about where they are getting this information," McBride said. "It includes some accurate information, but there is some inaccurate information as well."

If those numbers are correct, then Inglish is the "highest-paid public official in the state," Stephens said. After including bonuses and benefits, Inglish would be more highly paid than university presidents, the governor and top state executives.

"We've asked our auditor general to look into this," said Stephens. The Legislature Auditor General has the power to conducted financial and management audits of public entities that get state support.

UTA has increasingly, over time, asked the Legislature for help in expanding its system.

The state contributed to UTA obtaining the Davis County right of way for a commuter rail line from north Weber County to Payson.

And in the current session, UTA wants a constitutional amendment that would allow it to sell its light-rail equipment to a private investor and then lease it back, a move that could provide funding to expand light-rail service in southwest Salt Lake County.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com ; jloftin@desnews.com