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Mayor, Council Warn State to Leave L.A. Coffers Alone

They put their city budget differences behind them at a joint news conference. Hahn plans lobbying trip to the Capitol.

June 17, 2003|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

After weeks of squabbling, Mayor James K. Hahn and City Council members joined forces Monday to deliver a unified message to the state: Don't balance the budget by snatching revenue from Los Angeles.

At a news conference in front of Parker Center police headquarters, Hahn and some of his antagonists in the recent city budget dispute said they would lobby the governor and lawmakers in Sacramento to defeat proposals that might drain city coffers.

The officials surrounded themselves with uniformed police officers and helmeted firefighters to dramatize the theme that state cutbacks could cripple emergency services and make the streets more dangerous.

"Too many times over the years state government has picked the pocket of local government to solve their budget problems," Hahn said. "And enough is enough.

"If you take money from cities," he said, "what you're doing is taking money away that's used to hire police officers and used to put firefighters on trucks. It's taking public safety which is already stretched pretty thin and stretching it to the breaking point."

With budget talks fluid in Sacramento, where lawmakers are trying to close a projected $38-billion gap, L.A. officials said there is no way to know exactly how the city's finances will be affected. But with different proposals emerging that could cost L.A. more than $40 million, city officials "have to be constantly vigilant to what Sacramento intends to do," said City Council President Alex Padilla, a Hahn ally who broke with the mayor in the recent budget debate.

One proposal that surfaced last week would tap local property taxes to raise about $1 billion from cities and counties. That plan, said Dwight Stenbakken, legislative director for the League of California Cities, is still "very much alive. We'll see how it fares this week." The word from legislators, he said, is "there will be in the end some kind of cut to local government."

In hopes of minimizing the pain, Hahn plans to travel to Sacramento this week to lobby lawmakers. He is enlisting three incoming City Council members with deep ties to the capital to join him: former legislators Antonio Villaraigosa and Tony Cardenas, and Martin Ludlow, a onetime state legislative aide.

Coming off an angry budget showdown of their own, City Council members and the mayor sought to downplay divisions Monday. Some council members echoed the same arguments that Hahn made when he was trying to stave off defeat of his 2003-'04 budget plan, whose centerpiece was the hiring of 320 extra police officers.

"We are here united today," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, part of the council majority that overrode Hahn's veto of the city budget this month. "You watched as we went through our budget deliberations. We had our differences. But today we have none. We are saying with one voice Los Angeles needs to be the safest large city in the U.S."

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