Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his proposed 2011-12 budget, designed to stop City Hall from overspending by $1.25 million per day, or $52,168 per hour. Next, the L.A. City Council must tell Villaraigosa thumbs up or down, line by line, page by page. And there are nearly 400 pages in the document.
Things will get heated. Last year, police had to clear the Council Chambers amidst union protests. With a lame duck mayor, whose gloves will come off this year?
Facing a deficit of $457 million for city government, this is “Not going to be a sedate discussion,” Bernard Parks, Councilmember for District 8 and chair of the city council's five-person Budget and Finance Committee, says.
“Clearly, there are going to be splits on issues.”
The Budget and Finance Committee will hold the first in a series of public meetings today, April 27, to dissect Villaraigosa's $6.9 billion “Budget Proposal for a Sustainable Future.”
Ron Kaye, city watchdog and former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, notes that the City Council normally finds it hard to significantly alter the mayor's budget.
But Kaye is “Expecting some fireworks in unpredictable ways … In part because the mayor is a lame duck, in part because [his proposed budget] doesn't really fix the underlying structural deficit problem.”
Kaye wonders, within the hidden details of Villaraigosa's huge budget that will emerge through the course of this week's long meetings: “Will [the City Council] make a stand on anything significant?”
A lot of questioning is expected to focus on public services. Parks foresees a good amount of discussion over the page and a half of city services Villaraigosa wants to cut or severely reduce.
Parks believes cuts aimed at the Department of Parks and Recreation will draw major debate.
“I sense people's concerns about issues that have been routinely cut … services that are no longer provided,” Parks says. “Are there going to be alternative ways” for residents to obtain those services?
City services that the public historically voices loud support for have been slashed under Villaraigosa's plan.
“Things we get a lot of calls in the council office about,” Parks explains, “like graffiti removal.”
An animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley would be turned over to a private company — another possible hot topic. Measure L, passed by voters to reopen libraries now closed on Mondays and Sundays, requires the City Council and mayor to find funds within the existing budget.
Will the final budget freeze police hiring? The mayor wants cuts to LAPD and the Fire Department, but the battle will be over exactly where and how much to cut within those departments.
District 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz also sits on the Budget and Finance Committee. Paul Neuman, communications director for Koretz, says that it is “crucial to make sure quality of life and public safety are protected.”
Koretz will likely voice his loudest concerns over whether fire safety will still adequately serve the needs of the public — whether response time will be kept timely in emergencies.
Parks emphasizes: anything can look good on paper. But some of Mayor Villaraigosa's savings hinge on deals that have not been sealed.
Parks points out that the furlough negotiations with public employees and unions are still ongoing: But, “If furloughs are removed, where does the money come from?” he asks.
The problem may not be the plan as it appears on paper, but the reality. Parks worries that the numbers in the Villaraigosa plan are off, out in optimism land.
“My concerns are whether revenue sources, right off the bat, are accurate,” Parks says.
He cites last year's budget from Villaraigosa: it was too-optimistic by a staggering $75 million to $100 million.
“Last year we reduced the revenue [predictions] a little bit and we still came out short,” Parks remembers. “There is no real science to this, but if this is a similar year — If [revenue predictions] go too much over again, it will have a more devastating impact.”
Parks worries that the reserve funds will be in jeopardy.