LOCAL L.A. Now

5 things to watch for as Garcetti rolls out his budget in State of the City speech

Thursday will be a big day at Los Angeles City Hall, with Mayor Eric Garcetti delivering his yearly State of the City address and unveiling his annual budget.

Garcetti has been on a winning streak, securing reelection with 81% of the vote and helping to persuade voters to back a trio of tax hikes.

UPDATE: Garcetti's State of the City speech focuses on homelessness, new revenue »

But L.A. still has plenty of problems — crime, homelessness and a shaky city budget, to name a few. Here are some things to watch for as Garcetti spells out his vision and his financial priorities.

Confronting a big budget gap

Last month, city budget officials concluded that L.A. faces a shortfall of up to $224 million for the coming fiscal year. Things have gotten so dire, in fact, that the city is considering borrowing money just to pay for its ongoing legal bills. So what’s a mayor to do?

Holding the line on spending could disappoint the city’s employee unions, which have been clamoring for thousands of new hires. But efforts to secure additional funding — new developer fees or revenue from digital billboards, for example — could prove controversial among community groups.

By law, Garcetti must deliver a balanced budget.

Confronting Trump on immigration

California Democrats have been talking tough about the immigration policies of President Trump, who has promised a crackdown on cities that shield residents who are in the country illegally. Garcetti, by contrast, has largely avoided fiery rhetoric in favor of a more nuanced approach.

He has also promised that L.A. will commit public funds to defend those targeted by immigration officers. But he has also questioned whether “sanctuary city” is even a legally binding term.

Will he reinforce that quieter message during his speech or offer a more in-your-face response to the Trump administration?

Taking on traffic deaths

One of the bright spots in this year’s budget will be the tens of millions of dollars coming from Measure M, the transportation tax approved by voters in November. Since he took office, Garcetti has pushed for the city to repair more of its pockmarked streets.

But he’s been facing calls to put significantly more money into Vision Zero, the city’s high-profile campaign to reduce the number of traffic deaths. In 2016, 260 people were killed in collisions, an increase of almost 43% over the prior year.

Garcetti’s budget should reveal his priorities on both of those fronts.

Halting homelessness

Last year, Garcetti dramatically increased the amount of money dedicated to fighting homelessness, identifying a dozen city-owned properties to be used as locations for low-cost housing.

This time around, the city will have additional financial resources at its disposal, thanks to passage of Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure.

Will the city offer even up more publicly owned land to build homeless housing? Or will it pull back on last year’s financial commitment now that it has a fresh source of taxpayer funds?

Hints about Garcetti’s political future

Garcetti has repeatedly declined to rule out a run for governor, leaving the public guessing as to his intentions.

The optics are a bit delicate. It would look unseemly to launch a campaign before July, when Garcetti is sworn in for his second and final term as mayor. So don’t expect the mayor to divulge his plans during this year’s speech.

Still, Garcetti could use his address to touch on themes with statewide significance — water policy, the housing crunch, the tech economy — thereby offering subtle clues as to his aspirations.

And if he stays silent on those topics too? Well, we’ll always have another Garcetti speech in July, at his inauguration.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidZahniser

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