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Riordan's Budget Spares Only LAPD

September 16, 1993|JAMES RAINEY and MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In his first major policy initiative, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan proposed cuts Wednesday in virtually every municipal department to balance the city's budget and pave the way for increased police service.

The $50-million midyear budget adjustment does not accomplish Riordan's long-term goal of dramatically reinventing city government. But officials in the 2 1/2-month-old Administration said they hope to "stop the bleeding" in a city budget racked by recession, buying time for a later restructuring of the city's bureaucracy.

Only the LAPD was spared in Riordan's plan.

The proposal goes beyond cuts needed to make up for $33 million in reduced support from the state. It calls for trimming an additional $17 million for future expenses through a variety of cuts--slashing purchases of library books, curtailing road maintenance, chopping arts grants and reducing the mayor's staff by 10%.

The cuts, if approved by the City Council, can be accomplished without appreciable declines in service, Riordan said, contending that volunteers and philanthropists can make up the difference.

"We will work with (city departments) to dramatically increase the number of volunteers," Riordan said, "so in fact we don't have to reduce services and, in fact, can increase them."

Several city administrators and council members, however, expressed skepticism that the cuts can be made without reducing library hours, park programs and other services. "I can't believe that it won't have any impact on service," said Robert Reagan, a spokesman for the library department, which had 25% cut from its purchasing budget.

The budget plan is one of the first major efforts of the Riordan Administration, but the mayor and his aides depicted it Wednesday as an almost routine exercise in financial management. They cautioned that the city will face continued financial problems next year, when reduced tax revenues and more state cuts could produce a deficit of $200 million.

"This is first aid," said William McCarley, Riordan's chief of staff. "We are trying to keep the patient alive so we can do major surgery down the line."

In substance, the cuts are similar to those made over the last several years by Riordan's predecessor, Tom Bradley. But Riordan also made organizational changes to fulfill his pledge of decentralizing power in the city and putting more responsibility in the hands of department heads.

The mayor proposed, for example, that the City Council lift a three-year freeze on hiring, a move that he said would allow bureaucrats more leeway to make innovations in their departments. He also said he would move about 40 employees funded by special grants out of his office and into other city departments.

In what is likely to be first of a series of consolidation efforts, Riordan also proposed combining the Cultural Affairs Commission and Cultural Heritage Commission to save about $100,000. He reiterated his pledge to eliminate the full-time Board of Public Works.

Riordan demonstrated his continuing effort to court the City Council by consulting key council members throughout his deliberations on the budget and by appearing Wednesday with council President John Ferraro and Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, the head of the Budget and Finance Committee.

"The basic essence of the mayor's message is sound and correct, and the council should approve it without delay," said Yaroslavsky, who routinely bashed Bradley's budget proposals.

The council's deliberations on the budget are scheduled to begin next week.

Despite the collegial spirit, Riordan and council members acknowledged that myriad financial problems lurk on the near horizon--a potential shortfall of as much as $200 million next year because of the ongoing recession, unsettled labor negotiations with police and most of the city's other employees, and the possibility that more money will be lost if voters in November do not approve an extension of a half-cent portion of the sales tax.

Riordan's proposal draws equally on accounting maneuvers and reductions in departmental budgets.

The city's 44,000-member work force would be cut by 153 under the plan. Most of those workers would leave voluntarily under the Riordan plan, with a maximum of two dozen layoffs. Even those workers are likely to obtain jobs in semi-independent city departments that are not hurt by the budget cuts, Riordan said.

Most departments are requested under the budget to cut expenses on supplies and travel by 5% to 20%. In addition, if the budget is approved:

* About half of the $50 million in savings would be obtained through accounting maneuvers and shifts of funds from semi-independent operations such as the Harbor Department to the city's depleted General Fund.

* The cultural affairs program would be cut 8%, requiring reductions in cultural festivals and grants to arts organizations.

* Fourteen engineers who design street improvements would be laid off to save $648,000.

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