Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday delivered his annual state of the city address, which was essentially an argument for budget cuts and fiscal responsibility set against the backdrop of his own missteps and those of the City Council as Los Angeles faces a $485 million deficit come July.
The mayor admitted that he “stepped on a few rakes” in his drive to increase Department of Water and Power electricity rates by as much as 28 percent in this economic downturn. And he said that his simultaneously unveiled $4.34 billion fiscal-year budget proposal, which includes 750 layoffs, was far from ideal.
“You might find this strange,” he said. “Why is the Mayor criticizing his own budget? It is because I know we can do better.”
But while he took some responsibility for the city's deficit (City leadership “can't continue to choose quick fixes over permanent solutions,” he said), Villaraigosa also painted City Hall's fiscal mismanagement as an issue that has been largely outside of the control of the mayor and the council.
The circumstances behind his budget “have been forced on us by the economic downturn,” Villaraigosa said.
Of course, if you read LA Weekly, you know that's only half true. The city had since 2007 to come up with solutions, yet leaders continued to hire people, dole out raises to DWP workers and avoid serious cuts as the mayor traveled to Mexico, Europe and Washington, D.C.
“I issue another challenge the Mayor's office, the City Council, labor leaders and our city workers,” he said. “We must all share in the sacrifice to stop the cuts in services and prevent further lay-offs. We must all be willing to take cuts in our pay, increase our pension contribution, and contribute more to our health care plans.”
His budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would slash $176 million from the deficit, and planned worker furloughs (16 to 26 days per year) would cut another $63 million. Freezing “capital expenditures” would save $39 million, leasing parking garages to private operators and fixing broken parking meters would cut $53 million. Another $154 million in increased tax, permit and fine revenues and cash from the DWP would make up the rest.
The mayor vowed to make public safety the city's number one budget priority and said the Los Angeles Police Department would remain funded at 2009/2010 levels so that employing 9,963 officers would remain L.A.'s goal.
Street resurfacing would also stay on track, but pothole repairs would slow down following a storm season in which crater-plagued roads have gained L.A. the distinction of having the worst roads in America.
The City Council will approve, reject or recast the budget in the coming weeks.