Villaraigosa says city workers should pay more toward retirement

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa greets supporters after delivering his last State of the City address at UCLA's Royce Hall.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday that city employees should pay considerably more for their healthcare and retirement benefits to avoid “giant balloon payments” in coming years.

Appearing on KTTV’s “Good Day L.A.,” Villaraigosa argued that workers should contribute as much as 20% of their salaries toward their retirement benefits, up from the 11% that most pay now. “If we’re going to keep [pensions], they’ve got to be sustainable,” he said. “Even 11% is not enough. They probably need to be [paying] closer to 18% to 20%.”

Speaking a day after his final State of the City speech, Villaraigosa also said city workers should put 18% to 20% of their salaries toward their healthcare. Most contribute nothing toward their healthcare, according to the city’s top budget official.

After the interview, mayoral spokesman Peter Sanders said Villaraigosa’s statements do not mean that the mayor will seek such concessions in his final budget proposal, which will be unveiled later this month.

The two candidates for mayor -- City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti -- did not comment on Villaraigosa’s remarks. Greuel’s representative did not reply to inquiries and Garcetti’s spokesman said the candidate would not have a response until later in the day.


Ian Thompson, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 721, said Villaraigosa’s remarks sounded “like some billionaire on Wall Street got his ear.” He said Villaraigosa should focus more on restoring city services and rebuilding streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

“There is no good reason to move the city backward, which is what these proposals would do,” said Thompson, whose union represents 10,000 city workers. “We aren’t in the darkest days of the recession anymore.”

During the television interview, Villaraigosa also said the biggest mistake of his eight-year term was support for a labor agreement that gave civilian city employees as much as 25% raises over five years. He framed that decision as a recommendation from the city’s top budget expert, who at the time was City Administrative Officer Karen Sisson.

“The entire council and I accepted” the recommendation, he said. “It was a mistake. And since then, we’ve had to rectify that mistake.”

The raises were approved in December 2007. Days before they were finalized, Sisson warned Villaraigosa and the council that the city faced a $243 million budget shortfall for the following year.

Like Villaraigosa, Greuel and Garcetti voted for the package of raises.


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Twitter: @davidzahniser