Fiscal conservative and widely read author George F. Will is comparing the city of Los Angeles' economic situation to that of Greece, the debt-ridden European Union nation that many believed touched off last week's roller-coaster stock-market ride. Will makes his comments in a piece for Newsweek that is slated to run in the magazine's May 17 edition.
The comments underscore how L.A.'s fiscal crisis, swept under the rug for months and even years by city leaders more content to pass a cat-declawing ban, is now national news. Will's piece comes in the wake of former-Mayor Richard Riordan's own criticism of City Hall's budget skills in the Wall Street Journal last week. “The city is chin-deep in California's trickle-down misery …,” Will writes. He argues that the climate of Los Angeles “is usually Mediterranean and the fiscal climate is now Greek.”
Will, like Riodan, singles out the city's lush deals with unions, which include generous pensions and medical benefits that will outstrip the city's ability to pay them. For 15 years Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Will notes, “was an organizer for the Service Employees International Union and the city's teachers' union. Now he is trying to cope with, and partially undo, largesse for unionized public employees.”
It's political suicide, however, to attempt to pull pay and benefits from city unions.
“They are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself for ever-larger portions of wealth extracted by the taxing power from the private sector,” Will writes.
The city faces a $492 million deficit July 1. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed budget, including possible layoffs for 750, has been criticized by the likes of Councilman Bernard Parks as “fantasy.”
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