The future of LA hangs in the balance of 12 days of City Council budget hearings that get under way at 9 a.m. Monday but only a fool like me would hold any hope that the nation’s highest paid — and most overpaid — municipal elected officials will actually deal with the grim realities.
As proposed by the mayor with his rhetoric of “shared sacrifice” and “reinventing” LA’s middle class, the budget is a blueprint for bankruptcy.
The real sacrifices beneath the surface of the mayor’s proposal are lopsidedly the public’s, the reinvention a recognition that decades of misrule have destroyed the vibrancy of the city’s middle class that will not be restored by selling off future revenue streams, raising fees, rates and taxes even higher or providing a few thousand make-work “living wage” jobs.
The surface itself is a list of possible temporary wage reductions and “deferral” of some wage increases to deal with the estimated $530 million deficit that will be far higher by July 1 and is likely to get as large as the entire general fund budget within five years unless drastic steps are taken now to reduce payroll costs and eliminate wasteful spending and unaffordable programs.
In truth, the mayor — for all his emphasis in public on the sacrifices
being asked of city employees — has proposed
in closed-door negotiations with unions an early retirement plan that
will cost the public tens of millions of dollars and add to future
Already, it has had the negative effect of causing hundreds of employees to delay filing for retirement in hopes of padding their pensions with five more years of credit. The situation will be even worse if his scheme is carried out since he will eliminate a critical layer of managers — some of whom are “deadwood” as the mayor describes workers over 50 and some the experienced talent that have held the system together.
In truth, for all his talk about delivering on his commitment to reach the arbitrary number of 10,000 cops, the LAPD on his watch has grown by only 2 percent — barely 200 overall — with sworn officers doing the work of 600 unfilled lower-cost civilian jobs. There are no more cops on the street and the tripled trash fee has been used to inflate the rest of the city workforce by 10 percent or so and delay the impact of falling revenues and rising costs.
And so we come to the budget hearings, the public’s last chance that the worsening crisis will be dealt with honestly and with courage.
Our hope for genuine reform rests with Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Parks and committee members Councilmen Jose Huizar, Bill Rosendahl, Greig Smith and Controller-elect Wendy Greuel.
As I said, only a fool like me would hold out hope.
With the exception of Parks, who has a bead on the mayor’s police hiring plan for reasons as much personal as professional, none of the committee members has shown more than an occasional moment of independent thought and action.
And they don’t help matters by relegating public comment to the end of each day’s budget hearings schedule so that even if we the people had some thoughts about what needs to be done, we’ll have to call on the indefatigable Zuma Dogg to present them.
Still, I hold out hope. It’s my nature to always look at the way things are and develop a theory on how things could improve. It’s why I’m usually on the losing side but hope springs eternal and keeps me young in my outlook.
I don’t see how any sane person can look at the LA’s financial situation and not come to the conclusion that the situation is going to get worse in a hurry.
Unemployment in the city already is officially at 12.5 percent — that’s one in eight people. The unofficial rate is roughly twice that, one in four. And more people are certain to lose their jobs in the coming months and nearly everyone is certain to see their incomes decline.
Home prices are down 40 percent or more so more people will lose their homes, Taxes are soaring so there’s even less money to spend in stores. And the increases being put in place — sales tax, water conservation rate hikes, stormwater parcel tax — are all regressive.
They add to the burdens of working people who have lost or live in fear of losing their jobs, their homes, their security, their futures.
The budget hearings involve a parade of bureaucrats who spend hours making the case for more money for their departments. At the end of each day, there’s public comment.
We should know early on whether these five council members are prepared to rise to the occasion and face up to the challenge of seizing this opportunity to restructure city government while there is still time.
The options will be far worse months from now than they are today.