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Council OKs Budget Plan of Its Own

Mayor's compromise attempt to restore money for new police officers is rejected. He vows to veto the spending package.

May 29, 2003|Matea Gold, Peter Nicholas and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday rejected a last-minute effort by Mayor James K. Hahn to restore money for hiring new police officers in next year's budget, instead approving a spending plan that puts Police Department expansion and other new initiatives on hold for several months.

The council's 11-3 vote guts the centerpiece of the $5.1-billion budget Hahn proposed a month ago -- the immediate hiring of 320 new police officers.

More broadly, the council's refusal to be swayed by the mayor's compromise efforts demonstrates the new political vigor of the 15-member body, which had dutifully followed Hahn's lead in the past, and signals the mayor's uncertain standing among his onetime allies. Only Councilmen Hal Bernson and Tom LaBonge and Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the mayor's sister, voted against the council's version of the budget.

After the vote, the mayor said he will veto the budget plan, even though the council has demonstrated that it can muster the 10 votes needed to override him.

"Unfortunately, the council put the funding for police hiring aside for a rainy day," Hahn said. "I'm here to tell you that rainy day is already here. To communities that are plagued by gang violence, it's been raining a long time. And to communities infested by drug dealers, it's been raining and pouring a long time."

Hahn has until Wednesday to veto items in the budget and send it back to the council.

Council President Alex Padilla said he was disappointed by Hahn's immediate veto announcement, adding that the council's budget preserves the goal of hiring 320 new officers, even though it delays spending the money right away.

Padilla said he believes that there are enough votes to override the veto.

"I think this is a council driven by a commitment to do what we believe is right," he said. "We're not going to listen to rhetoric; we're going to listen to what's in our hearts."

Wednesday's vote capped a tumultuous month at City Hall, in which council members challenged the mayor's spending proposal for the 2003-04 fiscal year as irresponsible. Hahn and Police Chief William J. Bratton lashed back, questioning the council's commitment to public safety.

In the last week, Hahn had tried to fashion a compromise that would have restored money for the additional police officers and for a reorganization of the LAPD by cutting 3% from all city departments, except for police, fire and sanitation. On Wednesday, the council effectively shelved that plan, voting 8 to 6 to study it further.

The council then reaffirmed its approval last week of a budget plan that delays nearly $70 million in new spending until there is more information about the city's finances. Councilman Dennis Zine, who had voted against the council budget plan last week, voted for it Wednesday. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter was out of town on business and did not vote.

Council members argued that the police expansion and other new initiatives must be put aside for now because of forecasts predicting that Los Angeles could face a $280-million shortfall by June 2004. The picture could grow even bleaker as the state's budget crisis worsens, threatening $30 million that Los Angeles receives in state vehicle licensing fees.

During his news conference, Hahn angrily dismissed that argument, saying the city's financial experts in the past have predicted budget shortfalls that never materialized.

"Last year, those experts told me I was going to have a $250-million deficit this year," the mayor said. "This year! A $250-million deficit! Does anyone remember that except me?"

Padilla said the city avoided that huge shortfall by immediately freezing hiring and making reductions citywide.

"We can't cut again," the council president said. "We've already cut."

Hahn's compromise proposal was similar to a motion made last week by Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Perry tried again Wednesday, calling the mayor's plan an effective way to both preserve the police hiring and be financially prudent.

"None of us can look at the people we serve and say we are so lean that we can't find a way to tighten our belt more," she said.

However, several city department managers said their budgets have been trimmed so much in the last two years that further cuts would mean layoffs and a reduction in library hours, park maintenance and other services.

Councilman Nick Pacheco, chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, said hiring more police officers at the expense of other services would not be acceptable.

"The council will ultimately override a mayoral veto, because it believes in giving our children more choices, like parks and libraries, than just being arrested by a cop," he said after the vote.

Councilman Nate Holden called the compromise plan "deleterious," saying the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn -- the father of the mayor and councilwoman -- would not have supported it. Holden worked for 12 years as the supervisor's assistant chief deputy.

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