Cloud of bankruptcy looms over the City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa faces hard questions and harder decisions because of the major budget crisis in L.A. Some of the decisions he has already made have many citizens and employees angry. Brian Baer / MCT

The city of Los Angeles is living beyond its means. Vital cuts needed to mitigate the city’s current and future financial crises are being stalled by high-salaried individuals with agendas of their own. Someone needs to step up and make the same unpopular and life-changing decisions many private industry executives had to make, leading to the 12.4 percent unemployment rate in California.

There are 15 city council members in LA and they are the highest paid city council members in the nation with monthly earnings of about $14,304 each, plus perks. Clearly some cuts can be made by reducing the staff and salaries of this 15-member panel. With the new L.A. term limits, a third term of the same leisurely approach is not cost effective.

Home values in Los Angeles continue to plummet and the recession continues to be a concern for many unemployed or underemployed individuals. Nevertheless, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council are continuing to drag their feet on crucial cuts needed to save the city’s budget. With talks of furloughs and salary cuts but no clear implementation of neither, someone should be impeached from office.

However, with the city desperately running out of money, options, and time, the hurry up and wait mentality demonstrated by Villaraigosa and the city council got a surge of energy a few weeks ago when the mayor announced department cuts and the first set of layoffs necessary to close the widening $485 million deficit.

One of the departments slated to be cut is the Human Services Department, which in 2008-2009 lost $2.3 million. The Environmental Affairs Department was the other department slated for cuts by the mayor.

Why is it so difficult to make cuts in light of this information? In fact, an in-depth report reflective of Villaraigosa’s plans to balance the budget was issued to council members in January by Miguel Santana, chief administrative officer. The report proposed eliminating the same departments Villaraigosa slated for cuts a few weeks ago, while preserving core services like police, fire, sanitation and traffic programs. But considering the urgency given to the report, this was just another example of the needless destruction of millions of trees.

Early this year, the city attorney raised questions about whether the mayor had the authority to order layoffs while the city council voted to delay layoffs 30 days — at their salaries, what’s the rush? Then, in a clear demonstration of the right hand totally ignorant of the left, the mayor had to check with his new lawyer only to determine that he does have the power, through his general manager, to order layoffs.

Now, to add insult to injury, cuts to police and fire departments are being threatened and, in yet another stall tactic, a study to determine cuts to ambulance service are pending, while Los Angeles County released more than 343 inmates early because of budget cuts. Great, it’s not enough that a major part of the public is in turmoil over the state of the economy, now this.

With the elimination of these two departments, 56 jobs will be cut, saving approximately $3.2 million. It cost the city $383,000 per day or four city positions while this budget is debated and the budget has been in limbo for about four months — do the math.

The mayor’s office staffs approximately 200 employees, with 10 Deputy Mayors among them earning more than $119,000 annually. Non-civil service positions make up the majority of the mayor’s staff whose salaries are more than their civil service counterparts. Instead of threatening cuts to police and fire departments, a major reduction in staff and salaries in the mayor’s own backyard is warranted.

According to the mayor, additional cuts to more departments are scheduled but if it takes as long as the infinitesimal cuts announced a few weeks ago, the likelihood of the city entering bankruptcy is plausible, regardless of how adamantly the mayor rejects the probability. More attention and swifter action should be given to the budget and less on camera time with Susan Lucci, Mr. Mayor.

It is a sad scenario when the City of Los Angeles cannot even raise funds to purchase the land near the world-famous Hollywood sign in order to prevent the cite from being developed into luxury homes. Pride evaporates like the budget in the City of Los Angeles.