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Villaraigosa budget proposal to include 10% salary cuts

L.A.'s mayor is expected to seek salary cuts even from the police and fire departments, traditionally exempted from such moves. Villaraigosa is attempting to close a $530-million budget shortfall.

April 20, 2009|David Zahniser

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans to unveil a budget proposal today that calls on nearly every city agency to scale back salary costs by 10% as part of his effort to eliminate a $530-million budget shortfall, officials said Sunday.

The mayor is expected to seek reductions even at the police and fire departments, which traditionally have been shielded from cuts, while moving to merge three other city agencies and find private companies to run city parking garages.

Details of any salary decreases are still unknown, in part because Villaraigosa is negotiating the specifics of a plan to offer early retirement to thousands of city workers. He also is holding salary talks with police and firefighter unions.

"Everyone's got to participate" in the effort to cut costs, said Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo. "We can't balance [the budget] without police and fire. We just can't."

Szabo said a 10% reduction in salary costs would free up at least $200 million -- roughly the equivalent of laying off 2,800 workers. Most of those layoffs could be avoided, he said, if city employees comply with Villaraigosa's request for unpaid days off, no raises and a larger contribution toward employee health and pension benefits.

A group of city unions is pushing instead for an agreement that would allow workers to retire as much as five years ahead of schedule. "It would help pump money into the economy when it's needed most," according to a statement from the Coalition of LA City Unions.

Villaraigosa's budget proposal calls for three smaller agencies -- the Commission on the Status of Women, the Human Relations Commission and the Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families -- to be merged into a single department, Szabo said. That effort is expected to save $600,000 in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Far more financially significant is the plan to lease several city parking garages to private companies. The mayor hopes such a move could free up $80 million next year.

The budget also calls for the city to begin work on finding private operators for the city's Convention Center, the Los Angeles Zoo and hundreds of city parking meters. Those proposals, however, won't generate money until the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The potential for cutbacks is serious enough that the city's firefighters union has hired a polling firm to determine whether voters would favor a quarter-cent sales tax hike to pay for firefighters, paramedics and 911 operators.

"I don't know what's going to be revealed by the mayor's budget . . . but we're sure as heck worried about it," said Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.

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