L.A. City Budget Deficit Might Force More Drastic Cuts
By Christina Villacorte
City News Service
Service Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday he is considering drastic measures, including laying off 926 employees and furloughing all remaining workers--including police officers--to address the city's $403 million budget deficit if a labor deal with the Coalition of Los Angeles City Unions falls through.
However, he added he remains steadfastly opposed to a proposal to freeze hiring for the Los Angeles Police Department.
"Before I could even contemplate to consider that as an option, we're going to have to cut a lot more in the way of city services," Villaraigosa said. "When and if there is a proposal to (freeze LAPD hiring), I will have a correlating proposal that says I want to see all these (other city) services, all of these (other city) programs cut before we consider that. That's just where I am."
He said the city's labor negotiators met with union leaders over the weekend to discuss ways to salvage the coalition deal which--in its current form--would "devastate city services," according to the city's top budget analysts.
"There's no question that there's effort all the way around to try to resolve this in a way that understands the crisis that we're facing," Villaraigosa said.
Under the coalition deal, 22,000 city employees--including accountants, building planners, librarians and maintenance workers--were to postpone collecting two years' worth of salary increases until 2011, in exchange for protection from layoffs and furloughs.
Also part of the deal was an early retirement incentive program which called for offering cash bonuses to about 2,400 employees so that they would agree to retire up to five years early and reduce the city's payroll costs.
Employees who remain on the job were supposed to pick up the ERIP tab by increasing their pension contributions by 0.75 percent.
But in a report released Friday, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Chief Legislative Officer Gerry Miller said actuarial studies showed the deal was "not viable" and urged the City Council to reject it, unless the coalition "agrees to generate an additional $50 million to $60 million and increase pension contributions by 1.9 percent."
The City Council's Budget and Finance Committee was scheduled to discuss the coalition deal this afternoon, and make a recommendation to the full City Council on Tuesday.
City Council President Eric Garcetti said, "I think both the mayor and I and the City Council remain committed to an ERIP program that pays for itself. We always said that from the beginning. (But) we had a report that said that, as it was initially envisioned, it does not pay for itself.
"Doing something that looks like it saves jobs this year only to result in greater job loss next year is not helpful to our employees," Garcetti added. "If our friends in labor unions cannot help us pay for (the ERIP), we have to immediately look for action elsewhere. The waiting is over. It's time to act."
If the ERIP is rejected, Santana and Miller have recommended addressing the city's $403 million deficit by closing most city departments every other Friday, laying off 926 employees and forcing all those remaining to take 26 unpaid days off.Â Villaraigosa confirmed he is considering taking those steps.
"They're options on the table if we can't guarantee that the ERIP will pay for itself and so, yes, we are looking at a number of cost-saving options that will help us get through this budget shortfall, will allow us to continue to function and operate important city services," he said.
Santana and Miller also recommended forcing the city's 10,000 police officers to take 18 furlough days, laying off 300 police cadets and freezing police hiring--unless "breakthroughs" are achieved in ongoing negotiations with the police union.
They pointed out that the 2009-10 budget required the LAPD to cut salaries by $126 million, per Villaraigosa's call for "shared responsibility and sacrifice."
The Fire Department, which was instructed to cut salaries by $52 million, has already resorted to taking 15 fire trucks and nine ambulances out of service every day for a year.
Santana and Miller said the department should also consider assigning nine firefighters to every fire station, instead of the current 10.