After Two Years and $2.8 Million, Garcetti's Data-Driven Budget Plan Fizzles

After Two Years and $2.8 Million, Garcetti's Data-Driven Budget Plan Fizzles
Robb Wilson / via LA Weekly

Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled his new budget this morning. As he went over the details at a City Hall press conference, one phrase was notably absent from his presentation: performance-based budgeting.

Last year, Garcetti vowed to make "performance-based budgeting" the cornerstone of his budget process. Instead of basing budget decisions on the whims of officeholders, decisions would be driven by priorities, metrics and proven results. To make the transition, last year he set aside $2.8 million for new budgeting software.

But the process has still not been implemented in anything approaching a robust way.

"Right now, we're focused on the things we have to do," said Miguel Santana, the city's chief administrative officer.

In an interview, Rick Cole, the deputy mayor for "budget and innovation," acknowledged that performance-based budgeting "isn't as far along as we would like it to be."

In concept, performance-based budgeting should help a city focus limited resources on its highest priorities. Programs are supposed to be ranked in terms of effectiveness based on concrete metrics. The least effective programs are supposed to be cut, to make room to fund programs that are more successful and that serve the city's highest priorities.

In practice, Garcetti has been unable to cut anything. The city employee unions hold significant sway over the budget process, which means that the mayor's hands are tied when it comes to cutting existing programs or laying people off.

Garcetti once vowed to "start our budgets every year from scratch."

"The easiest thing for mayors and council members to do is just to repeat the previous year, and shave off a little bit here and there or add if it's a good year," Garcetti said in January 2014.

That is, however, precisely what he has done. This year, city department heads were given a budget figure based on a slight reduction from last year, and were asked to justify any increase above that.

Department heads submitted numerous requests for additional funding, and some were approved. Cole said that several "results teams" evaluated the proposals, ranked them, and chose the highest ranking ones.

Cole said the new software has helped align the city's budget and accounting systems. But he cautioned that a full transition to performance-based budgeting would take time.

"It's a multi-year transition," Cole said. "Our budget is one of the most complex in the country."


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