UTA defends bonuses, but lawmakers will ask for another audit

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Transit Authority appeared before lawmakers, where it pledged to enact recommended reforms after a blistering audit.

At the same time, the transit agency's board chairman defended the big bonuses UTA has been so heavily criticized for.

"If extraordinary work occurs, if we see benefit that truly benefits the taxpayer in the long run, I think that ought to be incentivized and rewarded," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who also serves as the chairman of UTA's Board of Trustees.

Hughes told members of the Utah State Legislature's Interim Transportation Committee on Wednesday that UTA needs to retain top talent and big projects have come in under-budget.

But some lawmakers were critical.

"We need UTA to be an entity that the people can trust and the people are in favor of," said Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville. "Right now, that just isn't the case."

UTA representatives packed a committee hearing where lawmakers were briefed on last month's audit that criticized the transit authority for how money was spent, executives' big salaries and bonuses, and underfunded bus and train service.

Read the audit here:

"I am hoping that the culture and mentality has changed there, so that we no longer as a legislature have to run bills and request audits to remind UTA of what they need to do," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.

UTA CEO Mike Allegra insisted that recommended changes have been implemented. He said bonuses have been scaled back and announced an internal study of compensation packages, where UTA will compare itself to similar transit systems across the nation.

Asked by FOX 13 if he would take a pay cut if the study recommended, Allegra said: "I work for the board and whatever they want to do with me, I'll be responsive to that."

Despite the promise of changes, committee chairman Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, said he would ask for another audit of UTA next year.

"Audits are good," he told Allegra. "They kind of keep us honest, keep us looking for things."

Allegra said he welcomed it. Critics of the transit authority left the meeting, feeling lawmakers did not do enough.

"I think it was a disgusting meeting," said Claire Geddes, a consumer advocate. "This is the third audit that has gone after them for wages and they have done nothing but increase them!"

Alex Cragun with the newly-formed Utah Transit Riders Union (an advocacy group for public transit passengers), said he believed UTA was trying to make changes.

"UTA has made some steps toward that, which is great. But more needs to be done," he said. "The public doesn't have the confidence in UTA that it should have."

Read UTA's formal response to lawmakers here:

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