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Officials Forecast Perils if Gann Initiative Passes

July 16, 1986|MYRNA OLIVER | Times Legal Affairs Writer

If the Gann Initiative had been in effect last April 29, Los Angeles Fire Chief Donald O. Manning asserted Tuesday, state legislators would not be conducting their hearing in the singed second-floor History Room of the Los Angeles Central Library. "This beautiful library," Manning said, "would be a charred ruin."

Manning and other fire and law enforcement officials unanimously predicted that passage of the salary-limiting measure aimed at public employees would cause a mass exodus of experienced personnel, encourage others to "use or lose" accumulated vacation or sick leaves and seriously impair public safety.

In the second of a series of hearings on the measure planned around the state by the joint Senate Budget and Fiscal Review and Assembly Ways and Means committees, the initiative's doughty author, tax reformer Paul Gann, was again out-talked by opponents spouting ominous statistics.

Because the initiative caps state and local government salaries at $64,000 or less (80% of a set $80,000 for the governor), Manning predicted that 920 of his veteran firefighters, including 80 chief officers, and 107 of his paramedics--about one-third of his staff--may retire before Election Day, Nov. 4.

(Pensions are calculated on the final salary received, and officials agreed that few eligible employees would stick around for salary cuts that would only result in reduced pensions. In addition to capping salaries, the initiative prevents most state employees from carrying over vacation and sick leave from year to year.)

"The resultant retirements and possible resignations would cause immediate and severe decreases in service due to lack of staffing." Manning said. "This would constitute a serious threat to public safety and would hamper, irreparably, the department's ability to respond effectively to major emergency events."

It was only because of experienced personnel, Manning said, that the department saved the historic library building and 80% of its contents in the fire that raged for 7 1/2 hours on April 29.

Although Gann has insisted that his initiative caps only salaries and does not include fringe benefits in the $64,000 limit, officials believe that courts may interpret the wording of the measure to include benefits as well. That would limit top salaries to about $48,000.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief John W. Englund predicted that 25% of his top managers would retire or resign because of the $64,000 cap and that 25% of his entire force would leave if the cap includes fringe benefits.

"The impact during our fire season," Englund said, "could be catastrophic."

Also predicting the loss of key personnel if the initiative passes, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block warned ominously: "This combined loss of manpower and crime-specific expertise will create the fertile conditions for a surge in criminal activity in this state, the likes of which has never before been seen.

"Organized crime," he added, "must surely applaud this initiative."

Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief David Dotson echoed that sentiment, saying passage of the measure "would likely result in the exodus of the entire top management of the LAPD and destroy the morale of the remaining forces."

If only salaries are capped, Dotson said, 88 top officers and six civilians would face cuts. If fringe benefits are included, 1,884 officers and 19 civilians would be affected, he added.

Compensating police employees for accrued vacation time that could no longer be carried over, Dotson said, would cost $25 million, and accrued sick time $44 million.

Gann said that either the Legislature or the courts would have to decide whether employees should receive one-time payments for currently accrued time. In writing the measure, he said, he had not considered that.

Asserting that he was "fighting for the taxpayer," Gann was unable to state exactly how much his measure might save taxpayers.

Pressed by Assemblyman Michael Roos (D-Los Angeles), Gann estimated the savings at "several hundreds of millions of dollars . . . about $100 million."

Safety officials predicted, however, that modest savings in salaries achieved by the measure would be offset by the costs of hiring and training more employees to make up for loss of work by regular employees who could not be paid overtime beyond the overall salary limits.

Meanwhile, Gann's attorneys branded as "frivolous" and "flimsy" a lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court by three Los Angeles County officials to force the pay-limitation measure off the Nov. 4 ballot. In a brief filed with the high court, Gann's lawyers called the move by Sheriff Block, county Fire Chief Englund and Dr. Sol Bernstein of County-USC Medical Center a "brazen attempt to thwart the constitutional right of the people . . . to exercise their precious initiative power."

In a sarcastic reference to predictions that the measure could lead to a mass exodus of public employees, the brief also said the measure, if passed, "would not lead to a disaster of biblical proportions."

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