At the moment of truth, the nation’s highest paid city officials blinked Wednesday.
They blinked at layoffs. They blinked at eliminating or slashing funding for the disabled, for the elderly, for Neighborhood Councils, for Environment Affairs, Arts, Culture, for just about everything that was proposed to stave off bankruptcy.
They blinked and squinted in the face of the daunting task of cutting spending, cutting staff, streamlining government.
Watching hour after hour on Wednesday of the City Council confront the truth of what they have wrought was like suddenly being transported to a strange planet where everything works backwards.
Are they crazy? Or is it us for allowing them to get away with creating such a calamity?
The confusion, the ignorance, the vacillation, the nonsense — it was amazing. Even more incredibly, their efforts over eight hours of budget cutting actually increased the deficit from $208 to $212 million.
They didn’t even know they have allowed nearly 60,000 households to pay nothing for trash collection even as they tripled the fee for every other single family home in the city with a broken promise to hire more cops.
They didn’t know there’s no other community in California that gives more than a 30 percent reduction to the poor. They didn’t know their 100 percent subsidy was putting the Sanitation Department $7 million in the red even with the massive increase on everybody else.
They didn’t know because it was just one of a thousand irresponsible acts that allowed them to turn City Hall into a political machine that pandered to segments of the population and their concerns while they gave away the city in sweetheart deals to unions, contractors, developers and consultants.
They didn’t know and they didn’t care because they were big shots with free cars and fancy suits and perks and staff serving their every need.
Well, those days are over and they are scared to death. What are they going to do if they lose these cushy jobs, become lobbyists or maybe parking attendants at the city lots they want to sell to cover a small fraction of the deficit they created?
You couldn’t help but have a laugh when they asked bureaucrats to verify the eligibility of the 60,000 subsidized trash fee beneficiaries or found it was illegal to ask contractors to take a 10 percent cut in what they’re paid in exchange for preferential treatment on future contracts.
They were near tears when they heard there are only 300 jobs open at the Harbor, Airport and DWP to protect the 1,000 to 1,500 city workers who might be laid off. But that didn’t stop them from putting off starting the six-month process for layoffs for at least a month and possibly forever, if the majority gets its way.
And it didn’t stop them from urging those proprietary departments to cancel contracts so other city workers’ jobs can be saved even if it costs more or adding to the massive unfunded pension liability by adding 500 more workers to the 2,763 already getting sweetened retirement checks.
As the hours dragged by and they got giddy from having to put in a full day of work, it became clearer that there was a certain rationality to what they were doing.
Their political machine was leaking oil, the tires were flat, the body rusted out. They knew that from the Council Chambers packed with hundreds of volunteers and workers and people dependent on critical city services.
They were desperately trying to put the machine back together again to save themselves by assuring all the constituencies they really weren’t going to pay for the failure of the city’s leadership, that the plan put forward on behalf of the mayor by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana would never touch them.
All they achieved was the waste of even more time, after months, years of dilly-dallying while the financial problems got worse.
Santana told them with remarkable calmness that the $200 million emergency fund is needed to cover this year’s deficit and needs to be replenished with the $100 million from selling parking structures and every other dollar they can scrape together.
It was necessary, he said, and not just in case of natural disasters. Credit agencies have already downgraded the city and will do so again unless they see money in the bank and a long series of credible actions or the cost of borrowing will rise sharply.
And that’s the real plan. The city intends to borrow billions to pay its current bills. It’s ready to sell off future revenue sources to pay its current bills. Its looted every dollar in special funds to pay its current bills.
And tomorrow? There’s no tomorrow, they will all be termed out and living high on their city pensions. It’s the rest of us that will have to live with the havoc they are creating..