“It’s our turn!” — So the mayor tweeted enthusiastically Sunday after Spain won the World Cup. “Let’s bring WC 2018 to LA! We’ve showed we’re a great international city that will embrace the games. It’s our turn!”
Nothing could better serve as the epitaph for Antonio Villaraigosa’s reign of failure as the phrase “It’s our turn!”
The “our” he refers to shifts with the moment but it never refers to “us,” not all of us. In the case of the World Cup, “our” could mean his benefactors at AEG who would stand to profit handsomely from a World Cup by getting approval for a football stadium downtown and filling the house for weeks on end at LA Live.
In other cases, “our” can mean the unions or Latinos or his rich pals who buy him valuable gifts. Such are the shifting politics of the mayor who has overseen the greatest increases in fees, rates and taxes in the city’s history even as he bankrupted the city treasury and slashed services to the public.
The mayor is not alone in using “our” and “we” and “us” the way royalty does, meaning “my” and “I” and “me.”
The City Council does the same thing as does our state legislature. It’s just part of the corruption of language that has become an ingrained part of our political culture.
Today, the Council is taking up consideration of a $39 a year parcel tax supposedly to support libraries which next week will close on Mondays for the first time in our city’s history because hundreds of library workers have been fired, retired or transferred in the name of balancing the budget.
There is no more vicious form of taxation than parcel taxes, which is why the Democratic-controlled legislature is moving to reduce the threshold for passage of such taxes for education from two-thirds to 55 percent.
If you own a 50-story office tower downtown or a $20 million Bel Air mansion, you pay the same $39 tax as the struggling owner of a cottage in Boyle Heights or Watts.
Personally, I don’t think the Council, even the Council, is dumb enough to put this on the November ballot despite their poll showing it could narrowly pass.
The tax would become a battleground for debating all that’s wrong with our city government, how it has given away our wealth to special interests and special classes, how it mismanaged almost every program, how it pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy.
This particular proposal has gone from having a five-year sunset clause to being endless, from being a flat $39 to escalating with inflation every year. It has the usual phony safeguards like a citizen oversight committee and annual audits that have proved ineffective in the past and somewhere between a third to two-thirds of the money could go to overhead — not books and library materials and services to the public.
But the ultimate reason this is ridiculous is stated clearly in the proposed resolution:
“WHEREAS, the City’s General Fund has had to provide the tens of millions of
dollars necessary to adequately fund Library operations, but can no longer provide such
funds due to the unprecedented decline in revenues; and
“WHEREAS, for the Fiscal Year 2011-12 Budget, the City Administrative Officer
has estimated that the City’s General Fund deficit will be $318.5 million and is projected
to escalate to $1 billion in subsequent years; and
“WHEREAS, cuts to the Library’s budget include the elimination of 328 positions
or 28% of the workforce resulting in a reduction from 7-day-a-week service to 5-day-a-week
service and reductions to library services and programs; and…”
In other words the mayor and Council — for “our” benefit — have chosen to make the libraries the first department to be hit with massive staff and service
reductions that will dismantle the quality system that former City Librarian Susan Kent built on time and under budget while setting up a cost-effective delivery system to borrowers at their neighborhood library.
In other words the $30 million to be raised with this regressive tax that hits lower income families — the people who need the libraries most — the hardest is just a drop in the bucket when the city is facing a deficit of $318.5 million next year and up to $1 billion in subsequent years.
That is the heart of the problem, the reason the city’s leadership must be held accountable.
This crisis has been building for several years and was forcefully brought to public attention nearly two years ago.
Yet, all they have done is to cut our services and take more money out of our pockets as they will today when they approve increases of up to 40 percent in ambulance fees, fees that they don’t bother to collect a third of the time because of their poor management.
They are cooking the books, borrowing heavily, deferring costs and mortgaging our futures by their cowardly inability to confront the problem that simply is city government costs too much — 80 percent of it for salaries, pensions and benefits — and delivers too little.
There is only one way out of this crisis and it starts with seeing that this is truly “our” city and “our” fates are tied together so “we” need to come to terms with “our” shared reality, balance “our” interests and move forward together.
To me, that means replacing those who have failed with people who can restore credibility to City Hall, bring us all to the table of power and work out a deal that reduces the cost of city government while protecting jobs and services.
That means labor has to take a step back financially and the public a step forward through a fair and transparent short-term tax that fixes the city’s finances once and for all.
This isn’t about the absurdity of a bankrupt city staging the World Cup. But the mayor is right about one thing: It is our turn, the people’s turn to take charge of the city and fix what they have broken.