You can count on the Los Angeles City Council for one thing: Putting off hard decisions. Despite pleas from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, despite warnings from credit-rating agencies, and despite the fact that the city goes $338,000 deeper into the red each day the council doesn't slash the city's deficit, it made very little progress on L.A.'s budget emergency Tuesday.
The body voted to eliminate the Department of Environmental Affairs at a savings of $500,000, it directed "discussions" to have a nonprofit group take over operation of the Zoo, and it wants a feasibility study on a public-private partnership to run the Convention Center. Now there's leadership for you. Because, when your government's bleeding red ink, what you really need are discussions and studies. The council called for committees to report back on proposed cuts Feb. 18 and 24.
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What the council didn't do: Layoff city employees, reduce its own salary and discretionary budgets, cut other departments. "We can't keep saying no to layoffs," Villaraigosa told the council, to no avail. The council stuck with its no-layoffs stance for now. Villaraigosa has ordered 1,000 layoffs, but his pleas to the council to make the cuts Tuesday made it appear, at least, as if he did not have the authority to slash the city payroll.
Council President Eric Garcetti responded to the mayor Tuesday: "I would like to state very clearly that this council has said yes to a lot of painful things. We've said yes to furloughs, and yes to moving forward with [privatizing] the parking lots, and yes to getting the mechanics' layoffs moving forward and yes to moving council funds.''
The council is facing a $218 million deficit and another $484 million deficit in July. City administrative officer Miguel Santana has repeatedly warned the council that it essentially has no choice but to make deep cuts including laying off 1,000 and perhaps 1,500 employees, eliminating several departments, and reducing council and mayoral salaries and budgets. Even then, the city would barely be halfway toward eliminating the red ink before June.
"This is an amazing opportunity for the elected officials to show leadership and for a valid reason," an unnamed Fitch Ratings representative is quoted as telling Santana in a city memo obtained by LA Weekly. "According to the press, though, they can't seem to step up and make decisions. So if it can't be done now, then when?"