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Villaraigosa aide criticizes L.A. City Council over budget shortfall

First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, who's weighing a possible run for mayor in 2013, accuses lawmakers of lacking a strategy for eliminating a $404-million budget gap.

March 11, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner is weighing a possible run for mayor in 2013. He has criticized the City Council for lacking a strategy to eliminate the city's large budget shortfall.
Los Angeles First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner is weighing a possible run… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Using some of his harshest words yet, a top aide to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accused the City Council on Thursday of lacking a strategy for eliminating a $404-million budget shortfall.

First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, who is weighing a possible run for mayor in 2013, told an audience at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce that private businesses would not give themselves so little time to eliminate such a large shortfall. Villaraigosa will present his budget in April.

"We've just reelected half the City Council, and I've not heard one of them propose a solution to a $400-million problem that's 60 days away," Beutner said.

Voters on Tuesday reelected Councilmen Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge, Tony Cardenas, Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar. Ballots remained to be counted in the race involving Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who received just slightly more than 50% of the vote on election night, according to unofficial results.

Parks, who heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee, disagreed with Beutner's assessment, saying he talked during much of his campaign about the need to reduce the size of the city's workforce. The council has already cut thousands of positions and won passage of a measure Tuesday to trim the pensions of newly hired police officers and firefighters, he said.

Beutner could have used his time at the Department of Water and Power, where he spent eight months as interim top executive, trimming pension costs, Parks said. "But that didn't occur," he added.

Beutner, a former investment banker picked by Villaraigosa to serve as his "jobs czar," has repeatedly promised to decide on his mayoral candidacy by the end of the month. But his comments, both in his speech and in questions afterward, sounded in many ways like prepared campaign rhetoric.

The Pacific Palisades resident repeatedly described Los Angeles as being at a crossroads, with 13% unemployment and only half of its high school students graduating — a statistic he described as a "damning indictment" of the school system.

Beutner suggested the council should have gotten out of the business of operating city parking garages — an idea rejected last month. And he waded into the debate over dramatically rising retirement costs, saying the city should make good on its commitments to its existing workforce.

"We made promises. People are owed their pensions," he said.

Beutner has not hidden his disdain for the council over the last year, criticizing it over such matters as the DWP. If he runs, Beutner could face two council members — Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti — as well as a former councilwoman, City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Beutner's most pointed comments focused on the budget. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget official, is expected to recommend new cuts later this month.

As it tackles that shortfall, the city should create a "new paradigm" with its labor unions by working more collaboratively with them, Beutner said. "They've got ideas. They've got ways to close that gap."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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