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Facing Catastrophic Deficit, L.A. Council Actually Adds To Red Ink

After seeing the Los Angeles City Council drag its feet for years over regulating medical marijuana dispensaries it should be no surprise that, when faced with the worse budget crisis any of the council members have ever seen, the body actually added to City Hall's red ink and put off any hard decisions for 30 days.

Yep. After a marathon session Wednesday in which the council debated ways to slash a fiscal-year deficit that has already blossomed to $218 million -- up $10 million in just a few days -- it actually put another $4 million in spending on the books, according to the accounting of city administrative officer Miguel Santana. And keep in mind that Santana already warned the council that putting off action would add $338,000 a day to the city's red ink. That's three-three-eight, zero-zero-zero. Your money. Per day.

The council is clearly swayed by city unions and other interests that don't want to see employees laid off and services slashed. The council wants to be a hero. But even if it adopted the recommendations of the city administrative officer, including at least 1,000 layoffs and shutting down entire city departments, it would only make a $112.5 million dent in the $218 million deficit. (See the administrative officer's latest financial reports to the mayor and council here).

And, by the way, even if the council could stomach the tough choices needed to bring city spending in check, it would face another $484 million deficit when the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Now, we're not saying we envy the position of the council right now. Nobody wants to see people lose jobs. Nobody wants one less cop on the streets. Then again, we didn't claw and fight and make deals with the devil to become a city leader, either. And we certainly don't make city council money ($178,789) -- higher even than the governor of California's slated pay -- either. You would think top dollar would bring top decision making, even when the going gets tough.

What we have, save for budget hawks like Bernard Parks and Greig Smith, is a council in perpetual lame-duck mode, with members jockeying for the next big thing while they bide time and try not to make any difficult decisions that will follow their political careers down the line. "We're becoming Sacramento south," Smith is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times.

If terrorists attacked L.A., many of these folks would be fighting over the nearest copy of My Pet Goat.

"People are trying to figure out every way except to hit the problem head-on,'' Parks said. "If we don't handle it, it's going to handle itself because the city is going to run out of money.''

That's our council.


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