City Councilman Dennis Zine got 99 problems, but a blind eye to L.A.'s extravagant set of city-worker privileges ain't one. His op-ed in the LA Daily News this morning calls out his fellow politicians for gutting crucial city services while preserving its most frivolous bits: “300 different types of employee bonuses offered in the city, which total nearly $150 million each year.”

Public anger over the city's inflated pensions and too-perfect health-care packages has finally made it into mainstream budget talks — and for that, they take a hit in both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 2011-12 budget proposal and the budget committee's followup. But, exasperatingly, hundreds of additional benefits still fly under the radar.

City-paid housing. Employee vehicles (which we know for a fact are used on unrelated business; ahem, Hilda Garcia). Bonuses for working in “obnoxious” conditions.

According to the Daily News, “employee compensation takes up 85 percent of the city budget.” Now, Zine pleads for a closer look at this giant, unchecked beast of a line item as the budget deadline looms:

The bottom line is that in many cases bonuses are exaggerating employees' base pay. In some instances bonuses can boost salaries by as much as 20 percent to 50 percent. This has a substantial long-term cost to the city, as some bonuses are included in determining an employee's retirement compensation. …

Every dollar spent on an extra bonus is a negative dollar from the general fund, which prevents us from funding many critical core services. That is absurd, and it is not what the constituents of Los Angeles elected us to do.

But how can a mayor who accepted at least $50,000 in free sports and awards-show tickets — then asked donors to pay off his corruption fines — be expected to crack down on extravagance? (And a good handful of his City Councilmembers weren't far behind their fearless leader on that one.)

This sense of entitlement in regard to our tax dollars has become the cultural norm at City Hall. Our elected officials treat themselves like royalty. Since there's obviously no concern over profit, which would be the case in any corporation, the money streaming in from 4 million Angelenos (who desperately need it applied to their own living conditions) looks like a big old goodie bag for the drainin' when it arrives at 200 North Spring Street.

From recent Weekly print story “Broke and Broken: City Council clueless about vast, hidden costs in Villaraigosa's $6.9 billion budget“:

Villaraigosa recently announced to an audience of cheering, impressed students at Jefferson High School that he is cutting his own office by 11 percent — and the L.A. media repeated his claim. The Weekly has determined his true office budget cut is about 2 percent and his operation alone will cost taxpayers about $42 million.

The dubious data speak to an identical but broader practice by Los Angeles leaders of maintaining secrecy when presenting city budget costs to the public; obscuring the existence of huge, undiscussed budget expenditures such as automatic bonuses; and using other questionable methods that have helped create rolling deficits and major cuts in city services each year.

Meanwhile, longtime City Hall watchdog Jack Humphreville told us that City Councilmembers “are supposed to put $300 million a year [to maintain roads] and there's [$50 million] if they're lucky. They don't even budget for it. … If this happened in corporate America, people would be put behind bars.”

Props to Zine for his gesture, however small; we hope his colleagues might wake the hell up and jump on that bandwagon as well. Time's running out, and the city's crumbling. A few hundred thousand patched potholes isn't going to do the trick, as much as AOL may drool over the Mayor's noble “resistance” to those evil “calls to gut the city's pothole repair efforts.” Barf.


LA Weekly