Wringing their hands and beating their breasts, the nation’s highest paid City Council members finally started to face the harsh realities Tuesday caused by their failure of leadership.
Drastic measures are needed now either in the form of sharp reductions in staff or in their salaries or the city’s current budget crisis will become “unsolvable” within a year, as Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller put it.
There’s no place left to hide with the costs of city pensions doubling in the 2010-11 budget year to $1.4 billion in taxpayer money as cost of living increases already written into contracts still in force despite sharp declines in revenue despite massive increases in taxes, fees and rates they and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa imposed.
Chapter 9 Bankruptcy looms as the only way out unless the unions agree to sharp reductions in payroll costs or thousands of city workers lose their jobs with a resulting decline in already inadequate city services.
“Serious” was a word used often by council members they clearly were looking for a soft landing through an early retirement plan that would boost the pensions of more than 2,000 city workers — many of them delaying their retirement in hopes of a bonanza payoff from the city’s financial troubles.
The trouble with that solution is it eliminates a generation of senior managers in a way that makes the pension problems worse and loses the valuable skills and experience that many of them have.
The video excerpts I’ve pieced together from the 90-minute debate today contains highlights of the CLA and CAO officials reports to the council.
In the end, the council voted 9-2 to give the green light to start the laborious process of identifying 1,600 jobs for elimination — a paper saving of $80 million of the $530 million deficit now estimated for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Less than 400 of those jobs are actually filled and they will be eliminated on the basis of seniority. Even of the position of a top manager was eliminated, that person could take the next job below him or her and keep pushing people down until the least senior people are laid off.
Budget Committee chairman Bernard Parks acknowledged that the mayor’s budget proposal is almost certainly unrealistic. If the economy worsens, whatever budget the council finally adopts is likely to be running a deficit by the end of September.
Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Dennis Zine cast the two votes against moving forward, blowing a lot of smoke about how they, ineffectively, have warned of a looming budget crisis and now feel it’s wrong to take the first tentative step to fix it.
Needless to say, Councilman Jack Weiss couldn’t bother to show up for this important meeting and will not show up to two meetings next week because of “personal business” — presumably meaning he’s busy calling developers, contractors, lawyers and union bosses for money for his campaign for City Attorney.