L.A. City Council Claims to Have Solved Budget Shortfall -- But Their $7B 'Plan' Tiptoes Around Unions, Makes No Real Plans at All
This morning, the LA Daily News and Daily Breeze throw around the word "realistic" in their wire-service headlines on the City Council's 2011-12 budget, approved last night. How horribly misleading.
Council Prez. Eric Garcetti: game face.
The piece begins with an eerie quote from City Council President Eric Garcetti, describing the $6.9 billion consensus: "After 10 years on the council, this was the smoothest one we have had."
Uh oh. When Garcetti says something's going smoothly, it's time to sound the alarm. (See: Hollywood Farmers Market "negotations" with the L.A. Film School.)
Translation: Since we have no idea how to appease everybody -- especially city-worker unions, to whom we are indebted for funding our political careers (thanks in advance, y'all!) -- and don't want the peachy city family to appear at all divided, we are simply going to pretend we have everything all worked out, then leave the dirty details for someone else, whose job this is definitely not, to hash out.
Smooth as a baby's bottom!
The Los Angeles Times' headline is equally misleading, implying the council's budget has succeeded in closing the $336 million city deficit.
While the 2011-12 plan, at face value, may add up to a deficit-closing $6.9 billion, it's not a plan at all. Most hilariously, $7 million in "cuts" from the firefighter salary pool is nothing more than wishful thinking, as the fire union hasn't agreed to anything of the sort.
The council's fear of pissing off the fire union is further demonstrated in the decision not to cut over 300 useless firefighter positions -- instead just eliminating stations and trucks, the one thing residents were begging them not to do.
It gets worse. Of $120 million in LAPD cuts, $41 million is unaccounted for -- essentially handed off to Police Chief Charlie Beck to deal with. So he'll either have to cut crucial city services (reminding us that the homicide rate has been scary high the last few months), or try to bargain salary/pension/benefit cuts with the police union.
But that's not Beck's job. Now, because the City Councilmembers are too pussy (and self-centered) to deal with the union themselves, Beck is given the desk job of cutting $41 million from his own department -- ironically the equivalent of cutting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's entire personal staff.
Which brings us to the Council's sunny announcement that, as reported by the Times, "the city's system of neighborhood councils and the City Council itself had their budgets reduced 10%."
What a load of bull. As we revealed in print story "Los Angeles: Broke and Broken," the mayor and his councilmembers underreport their personal staffers by almost 50 percent. Yes, they lie. About something as ridiculous as how many people they're paying to Tweet for them. (In the mayor's case, three. All so we can indulge in grainy, self-promotional Twitpics of the mayor on education-reform crusades to Sacramento, mingling among the kiddies. Suffice to say his overpaid "new media" staffers are nothing to RT about.)
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa posing with Wax Kobe: priorities.
So when the councilmembers brag that they will allow their executive offices to shrink by 10 percent, they may mean more like 5 percent. Worse, there's no way to hold them accountable for that.
And when the neighborhood council system -- solely responsible for making sure the actual residents of this city get a say in the way their tax dollars are spent, relatively powerless as it may already be -- gets an equivalent 10 percent cut, there are far more dire consequences.
Jay Handal, who helps oversee L.A.'s 93 diverse neighborhood councils, expressed his disbelief to Weekly reporter Mars Melnicoff yesterday:
The lack of transparency in the way City Hall uses money is the most frustrating part for Handal. The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have asked for both the mayor and City Council to publicly post information on what their "discretionary funds" are made up of and spent on.
"There is nothing by law that requires them to post it," Handal says, "But now, the fact that they are stripping us completely -- now more than ever, they should absolutely put [their discretionary funds info] online. How dare they take in millions of dollars each and not be subject to disclosure?"
Word. Now back to that President Garcetti fellow for a second, just because he so perfectly embodies the council's attitude, optimistic as a perky air freshener in a totaled beater en route to the impound lot:
"This is a realistic budget where we rejected borrowing to balance it, where we rejected cuts in public safety and where we are restoring library service to the city," he told the Daily News.
This, from the guy whose council approved sweeping library cuts last year despite hard proof that shuttered libraries would turn inner-city kids toward crime, not to mention 10,000 postcard pleas delivered straight to his office. No shit you restored library service to the city. You were required to, by a measure that apathetic L.A. voters passed en masse this March, so outraged were they by your actions. Dork.
And can we please talk about the $150 million in city-worker bonuses that the new budget doesn't even touch?
The mayor will either pass or veto various portions of the City Council's budget by Sunday. In the meantime, please, everybody: Stop calling this a solution. We haven't seen this kind of denial since Maria Shriver called her husband faithful.