SACRAMENTO — When Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Assembly speaker, walked onto the state Senate floor Tuesday morning, Sen. Debra Bowen greeted him with a big smile.
"Welcome back," said the Marina del Rey Democrat. "We're broke. We don't have any money."
Undeterred, Villaraigosa, along with Mayor James K. Hahn and 11 other council members, went door-to-door through the state Capitol, touting Los Angeles' falling crime rate and imploring legislators to protect local funding as they seek to solve California's fiscal crisis.
Officials organized the lobbying field trip after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed taking $1.3 billion in property taxes from local government coffers statewide.
Los Angeles stands to lose about $45 million, and with the city's budget already projected to be $200 million in the red next year, Hahn said he fears having to reduce the police force.
"We just want our money back," Hahn said. "We don't care what positions they make up here ... but what we want to say is one option has to be taken off the table from now on. You can't keep coming back to local government every time you have a problem."
Dragging chairs around to accommodate their Los Angeles visitors, many legislators said that they, too, are committed to police, firefighters and housing programs. But several had requests of their own.
Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), a former city councilwoman, suggested that the L.A. group tone down its rhetoric, which in recent weeks has been salted with fighting words for Sacramento politicians.
Referring to state officials as schoolyard bullies who shake down cities for the municipal equivalent of lunch money, as Hahn did earlier this month, is "stupid," Goldberg said.
"All they do is make people angry," she said. "We have to see ourselves working together to solve these problems."
Goldberg added that "no one was going to pay attention" to Hahn and the City Council if all they had to say was, "Don't cut me." Instead, she advised council members to propose alternatives, so the Legislature could help cities and still balance the budget without causing "illness, death, the loss of the ability to live in your own home."
Hahn said he has not overtly attacked the Legislature, but merely has fought for the residents of Los Angeles.
"When they hurt my city, I am going to criticize them," Hahn said. "I am going to fight for my city. If there are some people who don't like that, that's their business."
Still, in some of his meetings, Hahn sought a conciliatory tone with legislators.
"We want to get some guidance here," he told Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).
Lowenthal answered that Los Angeles officials should support Schwarzenegger's $15-billion bond measure on the March 2 ballot, which the governor has described as crucial for solving California's fiscal crisis.
Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) just asked that Los Angeles officials not break anything. That plea came too late, however, as City Councilman Greig Smith accidentally snapped the plastic off Richman's phone jack as he was crowding into a corner of the office.
In jest, Richman exploded, saying he couldn't believe the city was buying plane tickets "for you guys to come up here and then he breaks stuff."
On a more serious note, he questioned whether it was necessary for city officials to spend hundreds of dollars flying to Sacramento when most members of the Legislature already know their positions.
But others said the trip was important and useful. Even if they weren't able to meet with the governor. And even if they weren't able to "come back to Los Angeles with bags of cash for city programs," as Council President Alex Padilla said. Los Angeles officials have tried to step up their lobbying effort in recent months, heeding criticism that the state's largest city does not have enough of a presence in Sacramento.
"It's important to hear from the horse's mouth," incoming Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said last week. "It's easy for us in Sacramento to say, 'OK, what does it mean to make a $1.3-billion [cut]?' It's another thing to hear from your own particular city what that means for your own people."
Even Senate President Pro-Tem John Burton was uncharacteristically full of cheer when describing the day's meetings.
"We were all very impressed with the mayor and City Council members," Burton said as he wandered out of a reception for the visitors. "They made a compelling case for the city."
Villaraigosa agreed the day had gone well and predicted it would lead to further collaboration between state and local officials. As an example, he said that he and state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) had discussed plans for joint state Senate-Los Angeles City Council hearings on the effect of the proposed transportation cuts. Padilla said hearings in other areas were also likely.
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel added that she believed she had made progress in stressing the importance of workers' compensation reform.
And Hahn said he had been able to talk to legislators about a possible November ballot initiative he is pushing, along with the League of California Cities, that would amend the state Constitution to prevent state officials from using local funds without voter approval.
All in all, said City Councilman Jack Weiss, it was "a very useful day. That being said, it was a lousy get-rich-quick scheme."
Times staff writer Gregg Jones contributed to this report.