Cellular telephone users will be helping the city of Los Angeles get out of its budget mess.
While scrutinizing budget figures, city officials learned that cellular phones have not been included for years in the city's 10% utility-users tax, depriving city coffers of about $4.5 million a year.
They'll be included now.
That money, along with other revenue discovered by budget analysts, makes up part of the $3.8-billion compromise budget approved by a City Council committee Friday--a spending plan that corresponds essentially with cuts proposed last month by Mayor Tom Bradley but restores several programs that the mayor said had to go.
Trash cans will not be removed from the streets under the Budget and Finance Committee's compromise plan, and an after-school program for thousands of schoolchildren will be partially restored.
Also, libraries and parks will not be cut as drastically as Bradley had proposed, 90% of funding for cultural grants will be restored and alleys will continue to be cleaned in heavily impacted neighborhoods citywide.
In his final budget as mayor, Bradley had proposed tapping into a special $38-million parking fund, a prospect that outraged Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and prompted him to threaten to yank meters from the streets of Westwood and Studio City. In the compromise, some of the parking meter money would go for its original purpose--providing for construction of off-street parking.
The committee's 1993-94 budget still calls for the layoff of more than 100 employees and massive borrowing from the Port of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency. The full council will take up the budget May 10.
Along with the cellular telephone revenue, the compromise plan will raise money by aggressively collecting debts owed to the city and moving up proposed layoffs of planning and building employees from Oct. 1 to July 1. In addition, the committee's proposal would eliminate the Board of Public Works for a cost savings of more than $1 million a year.
"Overall, this is not a major change in the mayor's budget," said Yaroslavsky, chairman of the budget committee. With revenues down sharply and a deficit looming, Yaroslavsky said the spending plan "reflects the stark reality that the city faces."
Yaroslavsky said the cellular telephone tax is fair because it will not lean excessively on the poor. "Everybody has a telephone at home . . . but most poor people don't have cellular phones," he said.
Still, the move did not necessarily sit well with those who make telephone calls on the move.
"L.A. is already the most expensive cellular market in the U.S.--rates are double or triple what they are in other cities," said Steve Jelesijevic, manager of L.A.Tronics in West Los Angeles. But he said those who buy such phones are generally affluent and can afford a modest increase.
"No one likes to be taxed for anything," Jelesijevic said. "But I'm sure the council is trying to tax people who can afford it the most."
The budget proposal makes cuts in all city programs--except police and fire services and trash collection--and represents the second consecutive year that the city will spend less than the previous year, officials said.
All of the city's budget planning will be for nought if officials in Sacramento follow through with $300 million in reductions in state aid.