L.A. budget plan erases deficit while adding services
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a $6.9-billion budget Wednesday that, despite lethargic tax revenues amid a struggling economy, expands an array of city services.
The proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year calls for eliminating a $457-million shortfall while increasing pothole repairs by 20%, restoring one day of library service cut last year and putting an end to rotating staff reductions at the Fire Department.
Those changes would occur as the city continues hiring enough officers to maintain existing staffing levels at the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the plan.
“We’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, not just at our libraries but for the rest of the city as well,” Villaraigosa said.
The budget plan quickly drew sharp questions from Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who described its revenue projections as “overly optimistic” and warned that it relied on gimmicks. And the plan prompted outright criticism from City Controller Wendy Greuel, who said she was troubled by Villaraigosa’s proposal to borrow $43 million to get through the coming year.
That loan would help the city pay for a 2009 program that let 2,400 employees retire early, part of a larger effort to shrink the workforce. The city would also borrow money to cover $22 million in debt payments at the Los Angeles Convention Center, spreading the cost of this year’s payment over five years.
“Clearly, we’ll wind up paying more in the future as a result of financing today,” Greuel said. “Kicking the can down the road is not a solution when we can anticipate a growing structural deficit in future years.”
Villaraigosa’s proposal relies on getting $254 million from the Department of Water and Power to balance the budget. And it includes a demand for civilian workers to make financial concessions by giving up 4% of their salaries to pay for their healthcare when they retire.
In exchange for those concessions, the city would drop its plan to impose 26 to 36 furlough days for non-public-safety employees, Villaraigosa said. Those furloughs would amount to a 10% to 14% pay cut for full-time employees.
Employees allied with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions have been pushing their members to approve such an agreement before Tuesday, the deadline to vote. “If we can put the furloughs behind us and keep people working, that’s a good thing,” said Tim Butcher, a shop steward for Service Employees International Union Local 721, one of the coalition’s members.
That argument has not persuaded street services worker Dan Mariscal, who said he no longer trusts Villaraigosa on furloughs and layoffs. Mariscal, who is also a shop steward, said it is unfair for the mayor to propose any more services while demanding givebacks from the workforce.
“We gave concessions. We were promised the same thing in 2009, when they said we would have shared sacrifice, and they didn’t follow through on what they promised,” said Mariscal, who called on his co-workers to reject a proposed deal between Villaraigosa and the union coalition.
The budget now heads to the City Council, which will hold hearings next month. If approved, it would allow for the hiring of more traffic officers, part of an effort to generate more parking ticket revenue. And it would include the purchase of more cameras to be installed on LAPD vehicles.
The proposal contains a smattering of cuts, including 10% to homeless programs, council offices and the city’s system of neighborhood councils, and a 15% reduction in arts grants at the Cultural Affairs Department. Although the mayor promised to cut his own budget 11%, he is expanding an anti-gang initiative run by his office, from 24 parks to 32.
In its current form, the plan has reductions that are considerably less drastic than those suggested earlier this year by the city’s top budget advisor, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.
In a 400-page report, Santana advised the mayor and the council to scale back the size of government through such measures as the elimination of the Board of Public Works, a five-member panel of Villaraigosa appointees whose members earn more than $100,000 annually. He also called for an end to the Department on Disability and a 25% cut to graffiti-removal services.
Villaraigosa spared both departments and recommended a 6.5% reduction to graffiti removal programs.
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