Supervisor calls for 'structural overhaul'

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich slammed state lawmakers on Wednesday at an economic summit at Woodbury College in Burbank, blaming them for much of the financial stress that has forced local governments to shed jobs and cut services.

The event, sponsored by the Armenian American Chamber of Commerce, drew about 65 people.

Antonovich called for a "structural overhaul" in Sacramento, where lawmakers are struggling to address a nearly $20 billion budget deficit. He said the failures of the Legislature are forcing teacher layoffs and other cutbacks in Los Angeles County.

The county has reserves to cover a rainy day, but not a tsunami, he said, "and we've been hit by a tsunami."

The county must shave $115 million off its next annual budget, he said.

"We're going to need the cooperation of labor unions or there is going to be a real blood-letting," Antonovich said.

A former state assemblyman now in his 30th year on the board, Antonovich called for the merging of two large state tax bureaucracies, the Franchise Tax Board and the Board of Equalization. Doing so would end "counterproductive" legislative term limits and reduce the Legislature to part-time status so it would not interfere with business growth, he argued.

States like Texas, he said, "roll out the red carpet, and what do we roll out? The red tape."

But Nancy Sidhu, chief economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., gave the audience hope for better days ahead. Economic indicators, from the number of cargo containers coming to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the number of commercials being filmed in Los Angeles, are up, she said.

Unemployment and construction, though, remain drags on the recovery.

"The direction is right, but the level of activity is still pretty awful," she said.

Hiring is unlikely to pick up soon, Sidhu said, as businesses seeing improvement will turn to part-time and temporary workers before adding permanent staff to their payrolls.

"To those of you who are students getting ready to join the workforce, get ready to be persistent," she said.

But Sidhu said the gloom of recent weeks regarding slower economic growth and waning consumer confidence was misleading.

The recovery will be uneven, she said, but retail has stabilized and will begin coming back later this year.

"Consumers say they feel terrible," she noted. "But they are spending."

The entertainment sector is the shining light in Los Angeles County, Sidhu said.

She credited recently enacted state tax incentives for film production for part of the boom, as well as a return to production of TV commercials and pilots.

"If there is one big winner, it is the motion picture business," she said.

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