In final budget, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls for reversing cuts to city services
Ten weeks before he leaves office, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday offered a $7.7-billion budget that would begin reversing years of cuts to basic city services such as tree trimming and sidewalk repairs while avoiding employee layoffs and furloughs.
Buoyed by an estimated $111-million uptick in revenue, Villaraigosa’s spending plan for the coming year provides money to add 65 firefighters, purchase 533 new vehicles at the Los Angeles Police Department and trim an additional 35,000 trees — leaving the city on its most solid footing since it was engulfed in crisis five years ago.
The mayor also offered a long-term blueprint for financial recovery that would require the city’s elected officials to be far less generous to their public employees than he and the council were during his eight-year tenure. Villaraigosa called on the candidates vying to succeed him in the May 21 election, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, to renegotiate a 5.5% pay increase for civilian workers scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
Villaraigosa also said the next mayor should not allow salary increases for police officers, firefighters and other city workers after July 2014. That would lead to a $15-million surplus in 2017, he said. Eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in future budget shortfalls has been a central issue in the mayor’s race.
Employees in Los Angeles County government, which operates separately from City Hall, “went through four years of no raises, including police and fire” personnel, Villaraigosa told reporters at a news conference. “We’re going to have to do the same.”
While the mayor’s spending plan eliminates a deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, the city could still face budget shortfalls exceeding $100 million in the subsequent two years, even if the 5.5% raises are wiped out, said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city’s top fiscal analyst. Santana also noted city executives cannot force labor unions to renegotiate the Jan. 1 increase, which was approved by Villaraigosa and the council.
Garcetti, a City Council member, did not respond immediately to the specifics of the mayor’s proposal. But he has previously agreed to seek new talks on the January pay raise. A spokesman said Garcetti is “the only candidate who has balanced the budget and negotiated pension reform” and is committed to preserving city services by finding additional savings in employee costs.
Greuel, the city controller, did not comment on Villaraigosa’s call for a three-year moratorium on raises. But she promised to “bring labor to the table” to renegotiate the salary hike set for the beginning of the year, calling it “yet another example of Eric Garcetti’s irresponsible mismanagement.”
“My budgets will direct tax dollars toward maintenance and restoration of services Angelenos need most,” she said in a statement.
Villaraigosa did not suggest that a spate of other pay raises he approved be rescinded. Those include three raises for police officers and firefighters scheduled to take effect between July and March, as well as another increase for civilian workers July 1, the day after he leaves office.
Representatives of the city employee unions largely ignored the mayor’s tough talk on pay raises as well as his call for workers to pay 10% of the cost of their healthcare coverage.
“I’ll deal with whoever the next mayor is,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League. “Compensation is determined by something other than the outgoing mayor’s desires.”
Union officials did welcome Villaraigosa’s push to increase spending for public services. Cheryl Parisi, a leader of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents roughly 18,000 city employees, said her group is “looking forward to working with the new mayor to ensure the fiscal health of the city and the restoration of services.”
The City Council will hold public hearings on the budget and could make changes before voting on it next month.
The mayor’s proposal includes consolidating two of the city’s biggest agencies — the Department of Building and Safety and the Department of Planning. And it would advance plans to create a new economic development department to replace the Community Redevelopment Agency, which was wiped out during the state financial crisis.
Villaraigosa’s budget outlook was considerably more upbeat than the one he and other city officials offered just a few months ago when they were pushing an unsuccessful campaign to raise the city’s sale tax. Police Chief Charlie Beck and Santana warned that the LAPD would lose hundreds of police officers if voters failed to pass the tax. Villaraigosa’s budget would preserve police staffing for another year.
One opponent of the tax hike said the mayor’s budget indicates city leaders were not being truthful about the city’s financial health before the March election. “No wonder the people of Los Angeles don’t trust City Hall,” said Jack Humphreville, who wrote the ballot argument against the sales tax increase.
Santana warned before the election that the city’s budget shortfall in 2014-15 would reach $327 million. On Monday, Villaraigosa and Santana projected the deficit for that year at $159 million, in part because of improving tax collections as the economy recovers.
But Santana said the gap could grow to $267 million if the city moves ahead with the 5.5% pay increase, fails to get employees to pay more for healthcare and fails to rein in police overtime. He defended his earlier more dire forecasts, saying the city is still facing deficits in the coming years.
Villaraigosa and the City Council have cut costs over the last five years, reducing the workforce by 5,300 positions. The mayor, looking back at his tenure Monday, said he made tough budget choices — securing employee concessions on retirement benefits and other measures — and steered the city away from a $1-billion budget shortfall.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.