L.A. Mayor Antonio Villlaraigosa's proposed 2011-12 City budget is anything but transparent, as illustrated in L.A. Weekly's Broke and Broken. Even the simple basics — the number and cost of his own staff — are calculated with smoke and mirrors.
Today the Los Angeles City Council will begin discussing changes to the mayor's proposed budget – but they employ the same bag of tricks. On the books, the 15 City Council members list 108 people employed on their personal staffs for the last decade. The the L.A. City Council consistently employs more than double that under “As-Needed” hires:
Under City Council President Eric Garcetti, this system has not budged. Garcetti has been at the post since 2005, and on the City Council representing District 13 since 2001.
The Weekly finds some answers in books kept in the library of the Chief Administrative Officer at City Hall. On pages titled “Council proposed budget,” there is a bar graph that has remained steady for 10 years.
The graph lists the number of “positions” employed by the City Council members. It reads 108 since 2001.
Turn the page. There, listed under salaries, things get bigger.
In 2010-11 City Council “Salaries General” is listed as $9,438,031. But the additional category of “Salaries As-Needed” lists $11,983,873 more.
Since at least 2001, “Salaries As-Needed” has been larger than “Salaries General.” Seems to us like “As-Needed” employees are actually “hired-every-year-in-General.”
According to the City Controller's website, the number of people employed by the Los Angeles City Council is 285, meaning about 19 personal aides apiece.
If the official books start counting the actual total City Council employees under “General Salaries” instead of “As-Needed,” the bar graphs wouldn't be level at 108 employees anymore.
It's not just the true number of employees that gets buried. Want to know the true cost of an employee to the City? Add 40 percent to the figure listed in the budget. As reported in the Weekly's article Broke and Broken:
Three kinds of employee compensation — pension contributions, Medicare benefits and workers' free monthly healthcare premiums — add a hefty 40 percent on top of each worker's salary, according to City Administrative Officer Santana. The public rarely hears about that 40 percent when city salary costs are debated.
That 40 percent extra cost is left out of the “Total Department Budget” for every city department. It is instead obscured under the title of “Related and Indirect Costs.”
City Hall misrepresents its own budget. Compounded by the fact that many City Council members live in fear of the unions that fund their campaigns, how can L.A. residents trust this new budget that will claim to somehow save the City from a deficit of at least $350 million? And how can city watchdogs keep an eye on things that are so misrepresented?
City watchdog Jack Humphreville says that, on top of being misleading, “The management information systems of the City are primitive.”
Another issue is fuzzy “discretionary funds.”
Jay Handal, chair of a committee for the 93 neighborhood councils, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, asks:
“Why won't [City Council] release the information on your discretionary funds? None of them have put that up for the people to see. … We issued the challenge to the City Council. … They have completely ignored us.”
“The mayor said he would, but he never did. So, I'm not sure which is worse.”
Today, the L.A. City Council will take into account its Budget and Finance Committee's recommendations and begin the process of voting on amendments to the mayor's proposed budget.
Fire Chief Millage Peaks's proposed re-organization of the fire department will be the burning hot issue. The pun was just too tempting.