Villaraigosa calls for raising retirement age on new employees

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday threatened to put a measure on the ballot raising the retirement age for new city employees if the City Council refuses to enact such a proposal.

With the city facing a $220-million budget shortfall, Villaraigosa told an audience at the City Administrative Officer Investors Conference that he would seek to lay off “a large number” of employees in the proposed budget he unveils April 20.

The mayor said he would like to see the retirement age for new employees increased to 67. The retirement age for city employees is currently 60, although those who have worked 30 years can leave with full benefits at age 55, city personnel officials said.

“I’ve said to our employees, either we get it through the City Council … or I’m going to put an initiative on the ballot the way they’re doing in San Jose, the way they’ve already done in San Diego and the way they’re going to do in cities around the country.”

In San Diego, a measure heading to voters in June would end guaranteed pensions for newly hired employees and instead provide 401(k) self-directed investment accounts for everyone except police. In San Jose, a measure placed on the June ballot would reduce retirement benefits for new city employees.

Villaraigosa’s announcement comes weeks after the city’s five-member employee bargaining committee, which includes the mayor, asked city unions to give up raises that are scheduled for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Those unions refused to reopen contract talks.

Labor leaders said their members already had agreed to pension reforms and other concessions over the last three years, saving the city $800 million. They argued that Villaraigosa has done too little to find other revenue sources, such as collecting hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the city.

“I think it’s just a real failure of leadership,” said Cheryl Parisi, chairwoman for the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. “How many more services is the mayor going to cut instead of trying to manage the city proactively?”

The city’s general fund, which pays for basic services such as public safety, has more than 22,000 budgeted positions, officials said.

Since the economic downturn began, more than 360 city workers have been laid off. Thousands more have been pressed into retirement or been transferred to agencies not affected by the budget crisis, such as the Department of Water and Power.

Villaraigosa said his budget would also resurrect a proposal for a long-term lease of city parking garages, which was rejected in previous years. He would not divulge the number of employees he wants to lay off, telling the audience at the Grammy Museum that he did not want to do the media’s work for it.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.

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