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Villaraigosa calls for curbs in city workers' benefits

The mayor wants to boost retirement age for new employees to 65 and calls for a cap on health subsidies to retired city workers. The city faces a $54-million shortfall now and a $350-million shortfall next year.

March 03, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

Looking to cut costs in the middle of a budget crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Wednesday for an increase in the retirement age for civilian city workers and an immediate freeze on healthcare subsidies paid to retired police officers and firefighters.

Villaraigosa said he would work with the council to boost the retirement age for newly hired civilian employees — such as librarians, park workers and 911 operators — to 65. Workers currently can retire at 55 if they have worked 33 years.

The mayor also urged members of the Fire and Police Pensions board to reject a planned 7% increase in the healthcare subsidy given to public safety retirees. Such a move, which is up for a vote Thursday, would save $4.8 million next year, he said.

"We can't afford the benefits we currently provide, so we certainly can't afford to increase them," he said.

Retired firefighters and police officers receive a monthly health subsidy of $1,025, according to the mayor's office. Villaraigosa said he would work with council members to freeze that amount permanently — and seek a similar cap for civilian workers.

A representative of the Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, had no comment.

The city faces a $54-million shortfall this year and expects a $350-million shortfall in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Meanwhile, employee retirement costs, including healthcare, are expected to consume roughly one-third of the city budget by 2015, squeezing out funds for other services.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents civilian city employees, urged Villaraigosa to respect the rights of its members by entering into negotiations on any benefits changes for future hires. City officials have said that they can impose the changes unilaterally.

Villaraigosa said he would also work to ensure that pensions of newly hired civilian employees do not exceed 75% of a worker's annual salary. Existing civilian workers can receive pensions equal to 100% of their salaries after working 46.3 years.

City Councilman Paul Koretz said he feared that the mayor's pension proposal would make only a small dent, because so much of it would apply to new hires rather than existing workers.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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