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Los Angeles City Council Begins Review of Mayor’s Budget Plan

Budget talks began in earnest Tuesday at Los Angeles City Hall, more than a week after the release of the mayor’s proposed budget, with individual departments and employee groups queuing up to present their spending and cost-cutting ideas for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Council members who sit on the Budget and Finance Committee heard from the Finance and Treasurer’s offices, the City Controller, City Attorney and city employee pension systems in the first of 11 meetings scheduled through May 14.

During the notoriously long, daily meetings, the committee chaired by Councilman Paul Krekorian will comb through department budgets and hash out various options for tackling the city’s budget deficit. Krekorian, who promised meetings would end by 7 p.m., wrapped up Tuesday’s session at 5:30 p.m.

City leaders face a potential $267 million deficit if they are unable to obtain concessions from city employee groups, according to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

The reported deficit has fluctuated in recent months between $150 million and $216 million and was at its height when city leaders were promoting a half-cent sales tax ballot measure, which was ultimately rejected by voters in March.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in his final proposed budget before the end of his term, boasted a balanced $7.7 billion budget, which he proposed to achieve by negotiating with city employee unions to rescind a scheduled 5.5 percent pay raise and to have workers agree to paying 10 percent of their health care premiums.

Villaraigosa and Santana last week made the assurance that on top of the employee concessions, if there are no further raises and other costs remain the same over the next few years, the city should be looking at a $15 million structural surplus by 2017.

At Tuesday’s budget meeting, Santana said city employees and departments hoping to reverse years of cuts will likely have to accept that their current status is the “new normal.”

Cheryl Parisi, who heads the Coalition of L.A City Unions that represents 22,000 employees, countered that the mayor’s budget “does little to reign in the waste and inefficiency that costs L.A. hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

“We think our leaders should take a close and serious look at ways to address issues such as improving collections, eradicating foreclosure blight and promoting local purchases by city departments to better serve citizens and increase revenues,” she said. “There are many lost opportunities for improving the way our city does business, and they should be examined before this budget is finalized.”

David Sanders of SEIU 721, which represents 10,000 city employees and is a member of the coalition, said some of the cost-cutting measures being proposed could be counter-productive, such as having outside firms whose employees ”lack the experience and training of our city crews” taking over tree-trimming work.

“If the work isn’t done right, it could have a long-term negative impact on our natural spaces,” he said.