Saying that it has no choice in the face of persistent budget deficits, the Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to examine a package of controversial cost-cutting proposals that one councilman likened to a “declaration of war” on city workers and business.
The action, suggested by Councilman Bernard C. Parks, directs City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana to prepare reports in a number of areas where the city could potentially reduce costs, including doing away with a shortened work week for police officers, deferring or eliminating proposed employee raises and abandoning efforts to reduce the business tax.
The city currently faces a budget shortfall of $150 million to $160 million, according to Santana, although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others have said it could be less than $100 million. Villaraigosa will release a proposed budget, his final one before leaving office, next month.
Parks said it makes sense to get a detailed analysis on each of 22 cost-cutting items to find out whether, if implemented, they would help reduce the city’s debt burden, fix chronic budget deficits and free up money to pave streets, fill potholes and restore services that were slashed during the recession.
“We’re at a point now where we have to put everything on the table and consider every idea,” Parks said. “I can guarantee that all these things won’t be solved and discussed at year one [of the new budget].”
Although the city’s revenues are slowly increasing, expenditures continue to outpace them, creating continuing deficits, Santana told the council in a budget update. Rising pension costs, promised employee raises and healthcare cost increases are driving much of the structural deficit, he said.
Councilman Richard Alarcon characterized Parks’ proposal as an ambush made when union representatives and business leaders were not in chambers to debate them.
“This is essentially a declaration of war on so many entities we have worked with to achieve unity,” he said. He asked the council to delay a vote for at least a week.
But that request failed and the 10 council members present voted 9 to 1 in favor of examining the proposals in more detail, with Alarcon casting the only “no” vote.
Santana assured the council that no action would be taken without first going through council committees, where each proposal would get a full hearing. Councilman Bill Rosendahl said gathering facts was a necessary first step in considering all budget options.
“You don’t have to be scared of the unions,” Rosendahl said. “It’s just doing homework.”
The council’s action comes during the politically charged mayor’s race, in which both runoff candidates — Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel — have accused the other of being too close to labor and special interests. (Garcetti was not present for the council vote.)
It also comes two days before Los Angeles attorney Mickey Kantor, former secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, is expected to announce that he is convening a private panel to examine ways to fix the city’s continuing budget woes.
Council President Herb Wesson asked him to lead the group, Kantor said Tuesday. Its members will come from the business, labor and nonprofit worlds, he said. He declined to announce any names until a Thursday news conference but said the group will be independent of City Hall.
In February, Kantor announced his support for Greuel in the mayor’s race. He said that would not play a role in what the panel does. Recommendations are expected later this year, after a new mayor has been elected.
“It has nothing to do with anyone’s politics,” Kantor said. “I want the new mayor to be able to take advantage of it, one way or the other.”
Parks said many of his so-called Catch-22 measures would save money by eliminating inefficiencies. For instance, getting rid of the LAPD’s three- and four-day work week shifts would increase deployment of officers by up to 30%, he said.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 9,900 LAPD officers, said it had not yet seen Parks’ proposal. Until officials do, they will not weigh in on it, said union spokesman Eric Rose.
Other proposals have been debated and rejected by the City Council. A plan for non-exclusive solid waste trash-hauling zones in the city, recommended by Santana last year as a way to provide the cash-strapped city up to $30 million a year, was voted down in committee.
Ian Thompson, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, Local 721, which represents 10,000 civilian city workers, said the workforce should have been consulted before the council acted.
“We represent front-line city workers who know where cost savings can come and where efficiencies can happen,” Thompson said. “We have grave concerns with many of the things raised” in the proposal.