LA WATCHDOG--On April 20, slightly less than seven months from now, Mayor Eric Garcetti will submit his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018 to the City Council for its consideration. While the Budget and Finance Committee will hold hearings over the following weeks, the budget is already a done deal, having been negotiated behind closed doors between the Mayor and City Council with input from the leaders of the City’s unions.
The Mayor and the members of the Budget and Finance Committee will crow about the yeoman’s job they did in eliminating the projected $250 to $300 million budget shortfall. They will also tell us that this carefully crafted budget will improve City services, such as repairing and maintaining our lunar cratered streets, fixing our broken streets, and attending to the filthy restrooms in our parks.
But there is only so much lipstick you can put this pig.
In the past, Angelenos have had no say on the budget as the Mayor and the City Council are all knowing. But the Mayor and the City Council are the same people that are responsible for the Structural Deficit and the anticipated $250 to $300 million shortfall despite a $1.4 billion (31%) increase in revenues since Garcetti became Mayor. They have failed to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets and sidewalks. We have filthy restrooms in our not so safe parks and an urban forest that is dying. And the next two generations of Angelenos will be burdened with an unfunded pension liability that exceeds $20 billion.
It is time for a change.
Rather than keeping us in the dark, we need to be involved in developing the budget from the beginning. Members of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates and other interested parties need to be an integral part of the process, working closely with the Mayor’s budget team and the City Administrative Officer. The Mayor and the City Council also need to update Angelenos on next year’s budget in a timely manner, say once a month.
So how will the Mayor and City Council balance next year’s budget?
Will they divert revenue from the new State gas tax and the Local Return money from Metro to the General Fund instead of investing it in the repair and maintenance of our streets?
Will they raid the Sewer and Solid Waste Funds that are funded through charges on our DWP bill to help balance the budget?
Will they once again raid the Reserve Fund and the Budget Stabilization Fund even though they are below the levels recommended by the City Administrative Officer?
Will they defer the raises requested by the Police Protective League and the Coalition of City Unions?
Will they try and resurrect the issuance of $60 million of Judgment Obligation Bonds, contrary to the advice of Controller Ron Galperin?
Will they continue to divert charter mandated revenues from the Department of Recreation and Parks despite the filthy restrooms and the presence of gangs and the homeless?
Will they continue to cut services and what services will they cut?
Will they lay off employees or will they once again dump redundant employees on the Department of Water and Power?
Will they pressure the politically appointed trustees of the LACERS (Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System) to defer lowering the investment rate assumption to a more responsible 7%?
Will they propose another increase in our already high sales tax or our property taxes?
Will they dare to propose outsourcing nonessential work to more efficient independent contractors?
Or will revenues in this booming economy be higher than anticipated?
Mayor Garcetti’s “Back to Basics” promoted increased transparency and a budget that allowed the City to live within its financial means. It is time that Garcetti honor his promises by inviting Angelenos to participate in the crafting of a responsible budget that eliminates the Structural Deficit and improves City services.
After all, it is our money.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)