L.A. City Council member Bill Rosendahl calls it “gold in the gutter.” L.A. watchdog Ron Kaye likens it more aptly to “pennies in the gutter.” They are talking about what is actually changeable in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed 2011-12 budget. 85 percent of the problem is salaries, pensions and benefits.

LA Daily News agrees with Kaye and suggests we get our heads out of the gutter. There is an 800 pound gorilla in the room: $150 million worth of secretive bonuses paid to City workers.

Now that Mayor Villaraigosa has turned over his proposed budget, meant to fix a $350 million deficit — which secretly slips in $150 million worth of bonuses — the City Council gets a crack at it.

The Budget and Finance Committee, comprised of five of the 15 City Council members, engaged in a week's worth of detailed discussions about the proposed budget before reporting back to the full City Council next week.

During the week of discussion, each city agency voiced their woes over the cuts to their department.

“Please give us our money back,” they said. And the budget committee tries to figure out how to re-balance the numbers. They requested more detailed reports with which to make recommendations to the full City Council to vote on.

Such meetings have recently been held, and such requests have been made. Reports back to the budget committee will be on Tuesday.

But what about the bonuses? They are not drawn into the budget as line items marked “weird bonus.” Of course the city departments do not bring attention to them.

The budget committee is aware of the bonuses, but have not stepped up to the plate to address them – a headache project indeed.

We will talk about it later, they say.

Why not talk about the secretive bonuses which are not mentioned in the mayor's proposed budget — except for one line of jargon that reads: “freeze salary step movement.” three vague lines that do not address the fact that the bonuses are often not even listed as an addition to salary.

Bernard Parks, City Council member and chair of the budget committee says that the “freeze salary step movement” three vague lines in the budget will ensure the problem will be dealt with. He also points out that it is up to the city administrative officer to deal with the unions, who are in charge of the bonus problem.

But L.A. watchdog Jack Humphreville says that the City Council is “Not making the necessary changes in the work force because of their unwillingness to confront the union leaders, who just so happen to fund their campaigns.”

And the “freeze salary step movement” three lines in the budget is not the first time claims have been made that the problem is being dealt with.

According to LA Daily News:

In 2006, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa put reviewing employee bonuses at the top of his list of 10 ways to save money. In 2007, the city administrative officer got most city employee unions to agree to participate in a “Bonus and Codes Committee” to suggest ways to simplify the city's bonus system. But neither initiative got off the ground. Nothing happened and the cost of bonuses continued to grow.

Jay Handal chairs a committee for the 93 neighborhood councils called the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. They came up with recommendations for the mayor. “It's a proposal before his budget, which he obviously did not follow.”

They “recommended quite frankly a pay cut for every city employee …

The bonuses are egregious.”

Presently, the budget committee is waiting for the reports back about a litany of other issues. Why not this one?

On Tuesday, when they will get the requested reports back they will make final recommendations which will then be brought to the full 15 person City Council.

Then the process will essentially start over, the City Council will take the recommendations from their budget committee and discuss how they can possibly make this budget balanced and vote on changes to the mayor's proposed budget.

Will they continue to ignore the bonuses which eat up more than enough to restore a long list of city services that have been slashed?

Maybe we should call it the “bonusit” instead of the “deficit.”

Contact marsmelnicoff@gmail.com / follow @marsmelnicoff

LA Weekly