Gov. Phil Murphy today defended pay raises for top executives at New Jersey Transit, saying improvements at the beleaguered agency are dependent upon acquiring the strongest possible people after years of neglect by Gov. Chris Christie.
“We cannot and will not turn NJ TRANSIT around without attracting and retaining the best talent, something transit advocates in the Legislature have spent years calling for,” Murphy said in a statement provided exclusively to the New Jersey Globe. “And it is important to remember that the restructuring at the agency actually saves hundreds of thousands of dollars by eliminating four senior staff positions.”
Murphy said that the agency “went from one of the best to one of the worst mass transit agencies in the nation” during the Christie administration.
“While there is work left to do, we are in the process of turning that around that legacy of disinvestment,” Murphy said,.
The governor cited Christie’s “crippling” budget cuts and the results of an independent audit he ordered showing the NJ Transit was losing key staff because their salaries could not compete with other mass transit agencies in the region.
“Nothing is more important to the future of our state’s economy than a healthy and reliable NJ TRANSIT,” said Murphy. “I am committed to delivering on my promise to turn the agency from a national disgrace into the world-class transportation agency that New Jersey commuters deserve.”
Top Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), have criticized the salary hikes at a time when New Jersey commuters face huge delays and cancellations.
The Globe first reported last month that NJ Transit gave huge salary bumps to eight top officials, including two that worked on Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign.
Justin Davis, a longtime aide to a state senator, was hired as the $156,000-a-year chief of staff at the embattled transit agency. He was a consultant on the Murphy for Governor campaign.
His new salary is $188,000.
The agency also raised the salaries of seven other top executives, including William Viquerira, who had served as comptroller of the Democratic State Committee Victory 2017 committee and as treasurer of Gov. Phil Murphy’s inaugural committee.
Viqueira got a 19% increase — from $180,000 to $215,000 — and is now the Senior Vice President and CFO.
A NJ Transit spokeswoman said the raises were funded by the elimination of other positions.