The union that represents LAPD officers came out strongly today against Measure L, an item on the March 8 ballot that would set aside funding for the Los Angeles Public Library system.
In a statement, Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber said the measure "will create more problems than it solves" and could mean cuts to police, fire, parks and recreation, and street services.
"Measure L simply mandates the movement of money from one pot to another and restricts its use," Weber said. "It does not solve any of the financial problems plaguing the City of Los Angeles."
The L.A. Public Library system took deep cuts in last year's budget, as documented in an L.A. Weekly cover story entitled "City of Airheads." The library system was forced to cut back service to five days a week, an unprecedented step.
As a remedy, Councilman Bernard Parks proposed a charter amendment that would increase the percentage of property tax that automatically goes to the library system. The measure would take effect gradually over four years, and would restore full six-day service.
It would not raise taxes, which means that it would require cuts to other services paid for by the city's general fund. The measure would add $6 million to next year's deficit, and that figure would go up to at least $18 million by 2014.
Weber called the measure "ballot-box budgeting," a term generally used for state initiatives that tie the hands of the Legislature and make balancing the budget more difficult.
"Voters are being asked to mandate city spending obligations without understanding their long-term budget impacts," Weber said. "Clearly, the proponents of Measure L prefer it that way. Sidestepping the city's budgeting process gives them an increase to library funding without the unpleasant and unpopular tax hikes needed to fund it, and without discussing how it would impact other city departments."
Parks, a former police chief, has been calling for a suspension of police hiring for several years, but has been unable to persuade the rest of the council to go along with him. Some have concluded that Measure L is his way of using a feel-good library measure to compel the council to cut the police budget.
In the exchange of comments this evening, the library measure seemed like a subplot in the long-standing feud between Parks and the police union.
Asked to respond to the LAPPL's opposition, the councilman's chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr., said that it was "typical" of the union's "me-first" attitude.
"They're self-absorbed over there," he said. "If you give them a choice between themselves and children, they're going to choose themselves."
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Parks Jr. noted that public safety accounts for 70% of the city's general fund. But for the union, he said, "70% of the budget isn't enough."
The LAPPL has endorsed Parks' opponent, Forescee Hogan-Rowles, in the March 8 election. In response to Parks Jr.'s remarks, Weber noted that Parks refused to meet with the union for an endorsement interview.
"The LAPPL endorsed Forescee Hogan-Rowles because like us, she believes that government's top obligation is public safety," Weber said. "The Mayor and the current Chief of Police correctly credited the historic lows in crime to years of dedicated work by LAPD officers and adequate public safety funding. We support candidates who share this point of view."
The City Council voted unanimously last fall to put Measure L on the ballot, and it has the support of other public-sector unions, including the Librarians' Guild. The measure is widely expected to pass, and it is not yet clear if the LAPPL will spend any of its political budget to oppose it.