There was an uncomfortable moment at today's City Hall press conference to announce a pension deal with the city's unions. KPCC's Frank Stoltze noted that the deal saves only $69 million next year — and asked Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa how he planned to cover the rest of the $350 million deficit.

Villaraigosa — relishing a “gotcha” moment — said he was surprised that Stoltze covers the City Hall beat and doesn't know what the deficit is. Glancing sideways at Miguel Santana, his chief financial officer, Villaraigosa then announced that next year's deficit is $500 million.

One problem: Stoltze was right.

For proof, let's consult this morning's L.A. Times:

Santana also shared with the council his recommendations on how to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, when the city will face a projected deficit of about $350 million.

Don't believe the Times? How about Santana himself, who tried to clear things up afterward by saying that $350 million is the number he uses — but there are ways of counting it where you can get to $500 million. Glad that's cleared up.

Bottom line: Stoltze was using the commonly accepted figure, and there was no need for the mayor — who has never been accused of being a details guy anyway — to play “gotcha” about it. Especially considering that Stoltze was asking the essential question.

The pension deal with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions boosts employee contributions to the retiree health plan from 6% to 11% next year. But in exchange, the city agreed not to use furloughs for the remainder of the contract, out to 2014.

Furloughs have been the city's key budget-balancing tactic for the last year, so with that off the table, the city will have to find some other way to balance the budget. So, Stoltze reasonably wanted to know, how will he do it?

“That's the challenge,” Villaraigosa said.

Indeed it is. Just don't ask how big a challenge.

LA Weekly