How bad is the city’s budget crisis? I’ll tell you how bad it is, Controller Wendy Greuel predicts that next year’s revenue will be all of $16.8 million below this year’s — a decline of less than one-half of one percent, .04 to be exact, on a general fund budget of $4.2 billion!.
That’s right, it’s negligible. It’s why 7,000 jobs have to be eliminated through payoffs, layoffs and transfers. It’s why the city has to defer all the costs it can into future years, borrow to pay its current bills, why it has to hold fire sales to get rid of revenue streams like parking structures, golf courses, the convention center.
It’s why City Hall is in a panic.
Simply put, there is no revenue crisis. There isn’t even a spending crisis. There is a leadership crisis and a crisis in confidence.
What may be the most interesting fact in Greuel’s otherwise unremarkable report — unremarkable since almost all the information is already known and her report does little more than deflect responsibility — is that that the city’s special funds are likely to drop by $140 million next year or 7 percent. That’s significant because like the Harbor and Airport which have suffered revenue declines, the City Council keeps thinking they can put 4,000 people on to those payrolls and not lay off anybody.
The only place left to avoid layoffs is the Department of Water and Power which is looking for surcharges supposedly to replace its vast portfolio of dirty coal-burning plants and massive rate hikes supposedly for solar and wind power and to rebuild its deteriorating power grid.
That makes it difficult to pack a whole lot of workers onto the DWP payroll, especially when the people being hit are mostly child care workers who serve the poor, messengers who make the library system by moving books to borrowers’ neighborhoods and clerks who are already in abundance at the utility.
Despite the crisis and intense pressure to impose a 20 percent rate hike by April 1, the DWP Commission canceled its meeting Tuesday for lack of a quorum. The pressure comes from the need to sign four contracts to buy clean energy on the open market at premium prices to meet the 20 percent renewable goal by year’s end.
The lack of a quorum came about in part by the departure of Commissioner Edith Ramirez, leaving a vacancy that a mayor in touch with reality would fill from the DWP citizen committees to answer demands for a ratepayer advocate. Fat chance.
Not to worry, the fate of your city is in good hands if you believe Greuel or Council President Eric Garcetti who were interviewed Wednesday night on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? I was the skeptic brought in as counterpoint so I can tell you I haven’t heard such fairy tales since I listened to Deputy Mayor Larry Frank last Saturday at the Budget LA meeting.
Garcetti, who has the reassuring demeanor of the chaplain on the Titanic, actually said “core services” like the libraries won’t be hurt when between early retirements and layoffs, it’s certain that hours of operation will be cut by 20 to 30 percent and the book delivery system will be decimated.
With the certainty of a true believer, Garcetti — who Olney noted refused to appear on the show with me — spoke of the enormous care and diligence that has gone into everything the mayor and Council have done to respond rapidly to the budget crisis with detailed plans to avoid great harm to public services.
Greuel was little more forthcoming and did her best to show her own diligence at proposing paperwork to show she’s doing her job as controller while ignoring she was a Council leader when nothing was done about the falloff in revenue and every warning was ignored.
The Council, on the other hand, is showing signs of growing nervousness about the fact that they have approved the non-plan to solve the budget crisis without any understanding about what they have done.
You can ask any of the department heads, all 65 of them, whether there has been a clear direction given them on how to reduce spending or whose job to eliminate. The only direction they are getting from the mayor’s office is they prove their obedience or they’ll be fired.
It’s only dawned on the Council now that they and the mayor have not provided any direction other than cut, cut, and cut and then berated them and threatened them with dismissal because services are being slashed.
What could they have thought was going to happen when they protected 75 percent of the work force from elimination and ordered staffing in parks, libraries, planning, building and safety and most other departments cut in half.
Of all the promises the mayor has broken in his life, the most destructive is the one he made a year ago about cutting city staff surgically, not with a meat cleaver.
In fact, they took a shotgun to it and let anyone retire who wanted to with a sweetheart deal and then fired off a few more shells in any direction and called it a layoff plan.
They’re scrambling on the fly now to figure out what hell they have wrought. It’s gotten harder to blame the bureaucrats when they don’t know who’s working for them and who isn’t and what the leadership’s priorities are.
Tensions are rising, fingers are pointing, everybody is looking for a fall guy. That’s the easy part, it’s you and me. We’re the ones who will suffer, who will get stuck with the bills one way or another and suffer the consequences of a city in chaos.
Maybe they are right about protecting the cops. We’re going to need them in the months ahead.