The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce is pushing Governor Maura Healey’s administration to offer a new MBTA boss a big pay hike over the last one, with the hope that the governor recruits the most talented person for what promises to be a difficult but crucial job.
The chamber released a report on Monday by compensation consulting firm Executive Rewards Advisory that shows estimated base salaries for top managers at similar transit agencies range from $325,000 to $503,000 this year, based on 2022 reported pay levels and a 3.5-percent inflation adjustment.
In comparison, state records show that former MBTA general manager Steve Poftak earned an annual base salary of nearly $340,000 last year, although additional pay (primarily deferred bonuses from two previous years) brought his 2022 pay package up to $417,000.
Chamber chief executive Jim Rooney said Healey — who is on the hunt for Poftak’s replacement right now — should be prepared to offer a base range of $450,000 to $500,000 to attract the right candidate. He pointed to the new head of Washington’s transit system, Randy Clarke, who received a nearly $486,000 salary when he was hired last year and a bonus of up to 10 percent on top of that.
Rooney said business leaders say they view this hire of Healey’s as crucial to restoring public faith in the MBTA, which has suffered from a seemingly endless series of recent mishaps, not to mention shoring up the transit system’s safety and reliability.
“I’d advocate to get the ‘Bill Belichick of the transit industry,’ if he or she is out there,” Rooney said. “I know there’s a degree of apprehension about the public reaction to highly paid public employees. My motivation is to say we need the best person we can get. ... We need to pay him or her what the market is for that position.”
The chamber’s report underscores the Boston business community’s anxiety about improving the T. It also highlights a personal passion for Rooney, whose first career was with the MBTA, rising to acting general manager in the 1990s. Rooney asks politicians about transit issues almost any chance he can get; he lobbed another question at Healey last week during the governor’s appearance at a chamber event, emphasizing that improving transit is important to a range of public policy goals, such as bringing more people back to downtown Boston and reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
Rooney said he also hopes new T leadership can improve its project management. It’s a need that has been underscored by massive delays and cost overruns in private-sector contracts such as the delivery of Red Line and Orange Line cars from Chinese manufacturer CRRC and the installation of fare-collection gates at the city’s three main commuter rail stations by California-based transportation contractor Cubic Corp.
“The business community needs it,” Rooney said. “We have the obligation to support a new administration that I hope is bold enough to pay the salary that is required.”
The MBTA general manager will oversee a workforce of more than 6,000 people, the chamber said, not to mention the hundreds more that the governor wants to add.
Healey took office in January and has largely finished installing her top leadership team, including new transportation secretary Gina Fiandaca, but still has not hired a new general manger for the T. In comments after the chamber event Thursday, Healey said her administration is “nearly through” with the search.
“It’s just a really important position,” she said. “We want to make sure we undertook a thorough process.”