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Police Raises Emerge as Issue in Budget

June 03, 2003|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

As he works to overcome the City Council's apprehension about hiring hundreds of new police officers, Mayor James K. Hahn suspects some council members already have promised the police union that they would support expensive raises in the union's upcoming contract.

The contract negotiations between the city and the Los Angeles Police Protective League have received far less attention than the acrimonious budget debate, but the two are linked, Hahn said.

The more generous the contract awarded to the 9,200-member union, he said, the less money is available for bolstering the Police Department's ranks.

"The money comes out of the same place -- out of the general fund," Hahn said in an interview. "And to the extent you spend money in one place, you can't spend money in another place. I would be concerned if City Council members have made commitments already to specific numbers on a pay increase."

Police officials say it would cost about $11 million a year to pay for each 1% of a pay increase.

In opposing Hahn's proposal to hire 320 new officers, City Council members have questioned whether the city can afford the expense at a time when financial analysts are predicting large budget shortfalls.

"The council has clearly articulated its valid concern for deficits in future years," said council President Alex Padilla. "We will do what we can to avoid any Sacramento-type situation."

The mayor's office would not identify which council members it suspects might be making promises to the union outside the formal bargaining process.

Hahn "has mentioned it to me two or three times," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who said he has given the union no commitments.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the mayor's sister and a supporter of his call for more police, warned of a "self-fulfilling prophecy" in which some members are quietly agreeing to lucrative police pay hikes that would create the very shortfalls they want to avoid. It is a shortsighted approach, she said.

"If you talk to the average person in Los Angeles, if you give them a choice of higher-paid police officers or more police officers, they will choose more police officers every single day," the councilwoman said. "It's not all about how much money we put in their pockets."

The city is in the early stages of negotiating a new contract with the Police Protective League, whose three-year pact expires at the end of June. One city official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the union wants raises of 4% a year, for a total of 12% over three years.

Asked about those figures, Councilman Dennis Zine, himself a former police union official and a member of the five-person Executive Employee Relations Committee, the city panel that oversees the negotiations, said: "You're in the ballpark."

League President Bob Baker would not confirm the amount the union is seeking.

"These figures are all news to the league," Baker said. "There have been no formal offers given and no money has been put on the table."

Hahn has set aside more than $732 million in his proposed 2003-04 budget for salaries of sworn police officers. The Hahn administration would not reveal its opening bid to the union, but one official said that built into the budget is an anticipated salary hike of between 1.5% and 3.5% -- less than what the union is said to be seeking.

Early on, Hahn sought help from the union in winning council passage of his $5.1-billion budget, but did not get it.

The council voted last week to delay the mayor's police hiring plan, triggering a veto threat from Hahn. Now, facing a Wednesday deadline to sign or veto the budget, the mayor is scrambling to forge a six-member coalition needed to sustain his veto.

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Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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