Wed, Apr

What the Mayor Neglected to Tell Us about the LA’s New City Budget


LA WATDHDOG--On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti characterized his $5.6 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year as a “strong spending plan that is balanced and responsible, with a record investment of $138 million to tackle the City’s homelessness crisis.” 

But “spending” is the operative word as the cumulative deficit over the next four years is expected to exceed $300 million as the growth in expenditures exceeds that of revenues.  This compares to last year’s projection of a four year cumulative deficit of “only” $37 million. 

This change in fortune is exhibited by comparing the outcomes for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.  The current April 2016 outlook shows red ink of $101 million in 2020, up from last year’s projected surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.  Underlying this differential is a less than transparent $263 million bump in expenditures caused by increases in pension contributions, employee compensation, and human resource benefits, offset by a modest $95 million growth in revenues. 

Unfortunately, these projections do not take into account the money that is needed to repair and maintain our streets, our parks and trees, the City’s building and facilities, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure. 

The City is also short changing its two seriously underfunded pension plans by more than $400 million a year by relying on the bogus assumption that its two pension plans will earn 7½% on its investment portfolio.  This compares to an investment rate assumption of 6½% that is recommended by Warren Buffet and other savvy investors.  

Garcetti’s budget did not include a long term financial plan to attack the homeless crisis, but indicated that he will propose a new tax to provide a dedicated source of funding for this initiative.  

But before the Mayor and the City Council place a homeless tax measure on the ballot for our approval or rejection, they need to develop a comprehensive game plan where the City collaborates with the County and takes into consideration the County’s efforts to fund its homeless initiative.  It will also need to establish a management team with clear lines of authority to offset the interference by grandstanding politicians.  

The City should also take into consideration an array of other taxes that are being considered by both the County and the City.  These include the November ballot measure to increase our sales tax by a half cent to fund Metro’s transportation projects, a County parcel tax to fund its parks, a County storm water tax, and a City tax to finance the repair and maintenance of our streets and sidewalks.  

Along with the recent increase in our taxes associated with the Department of Water and Power rate increase, these hits to our wallets would be the equivalent of a three cent increase in our sales tax to 12% or a 33% increase in our property taxes.  These do not include any new State taxes.    


The Budget and Finance Committee will begin its public consideration of the Mayor’s budget on Wednesday, April 27.  This will involve discussions with all of the General Managers of the City’s departments.  But the Budget and Finance Committee would be wise to seriously consider the recommendations of LA 2020 Commission involving the establishment of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the finances of our cash strapped City, the creation of a Committee on Retirement Security to review the City’s pension plans that are over $13 billion in the red, and the annual preparation of a three year budget so that we and the Council members have a better understanding of the long term consequences of City policies and legislation. 

Unfortunately, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian and City Council President Herb Wesson will once again refuse to consider the excellent, common sense recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.  Nor will they consider cutting back on the future expenses that contribute to the projected budget deficit of $101 million in 2020. 

But then again, if the City Council does not get its financial act cleaned up, we do not have to approve any tax increases.  

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected].)


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