L.A. City's Worst Budget Crisis
Like most of the nation, the city of Los Angeles is experiencing fiscal woes; it has a larger than normal deficit and is struggling to close the gap.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
For many months now, the city of Los Angeles has been struggling to close the gap on what Mayor Villaraigosa has dubbed the city's worst financial crisis, its largest deficit of over $400 million. City negotiators working with the chief legislative analyst have been meeting with the unions that represent police officers, firefighters and other city workers, and thus far they have eked out some concessions that may eventually lead to court action by the unions against the city.
Some of the ideas that have been floating around include furloughs, layoffs, early retirements and of course, departmental budget cuts. Last week, the negotiations have said to yield the city an estimated $78 million in union concessions in addition to other cutbacks in the pension fund, which is directly related to early retirement. But though all these negotiation results may sound a bit optimistic, they have to be voted on by the city council members and be ratified by the union members. So it does not appear to be a done deal.
The mayor issued the following statement on the proposed early retirement of the city unions after last weekend's marathon negotiations: "After a seven-hour executive session on Tuesday and more talks overnight, negotiations continued on Wednesday between city officials and union leaders as they wrestle with a plan to avert furloughs and layoffs. The continued negotiations are designed to close a $405 million budget shortfall and keep alive an early retirement incentive program, which is intended to take 2,400 workers off the city payroll."
Council-member Herb Wesson stated optimistically, "This agreement demonstrates what the city can do when we all pull together. We're still not out of the woods by any means. But we've put together a plan that enables the city to move forward in this very difficult economy."
However, it seems that Councilman Bernard Parks, the most outspoken opponent of the retirement plan, is believed to have the support of at least two other council members.
But Mayor Villaraigosa has apparently told the council that he will veto passage of any early-retirement plan unless the proposed costs can be balanced with savings elsewhere, and it would take at least 12 of the council's 14 members--the 2nd District seat is vacant--to override the mayor's veto.
As previously mentioned, there could be legal action in the city's future by the unions who believe that the city has reneged on its word relative to the early retirement program. A few months ago, a coalition representing 22,000 union members (civilians) had reached an agreement with the city to forgo pay and pension increases for an early retirement plan. In addition, to negotiations with the union representing the civilians, the city was also in talks, at the same time with the police officers and the fighters unions.
Though the City Council voted to balance the budget in a manner that protects critical city services, saves jobs, and upholds the Council's commitment to public safety, a recent study of the city's current financial condition revealed that the cost of the early retirement plan would devastate city operations and create endless misery to the residents of Los Angeles.