L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel… (Los Angeles Times )
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti on Wednesday sought to highlight what they say are needed reforms in city government, an apparent response to criticism that they have avoided specifics on solving chronic budget problems.
Greuel said she would consider raising the retirement age for current city workers, along with other changes to the city's pension systems.
But she said she would seek changes only through collective bargaining, not by forcing new rules on workers. Consulting with both business and labor would help break the "paralysis" at City Hall and is a key difference between herself and Garcetti, Greuel said during an appearance at Cal State Northridge.
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"I'm looking at current employees on age, on pension capping, on pension spiking. Those are a variety of things that I have put on the table,'' Greuel said. "My relationship both with business and labor has been to have them part of the decision-making, as being at the table and negotiating."
She said she "absolutely" told labor leaders during private talks in which she sought their endorsement that further "sacrifices" might be on the table.
"They are receptive to being at the table, they are receptive to looking at all of the options so that we can ensure that we have a pension system that actually is sustainable,'' she told reporters. "It doesn't benefit anyone if a pension system if not sustainable."
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Civilian workers currently can retire as early as age 55; police and fire employees can step down with full benefits beginning at age 50.
The city is forecasting $999 million in pension costs for the 2013-14 fiscal year, up from $848 million this year.
A day earlier, Greuel proposed that budgets for the City Council and the mayor be cut by 25%. Garcetti responded Wednesday, saying such a reduction was inconsequential given the size of Los Angeles' deficit problem, estimated to be up to $165 million in the coming year.
"That's a drop in the bucket," Garcetti told reporters after a campaign event in Echo Park.
"What we have to be doing is not only leading by example, as we've done, but we need to look at pension reform, [employee] healthcare reform, those things that really give us bang for the buck, and most importantly, growing the economy. I think that's really the long-term path to making sure we don't have budget deficits at all."
Garcetti also said council offices had already trimmed expenses nearly 25%.
"That was the responsible thing to do in a recession, so that is something we've actually done," he said. "While others, again, are talking about what they would do, we've done it."
Garcetti went on to accuse Greuel of repeatedly overspending her city controller's office budget, an assertion that prompted questions about the councilman's record. The Times found, based on the accounting used by Garcetti, that the City Council overspent its budget by a even larger margin under Garcetti's presidency.
Greuel's spokeswoman, Shannon Murphy, said when all appropriations and other funding are considered, the controller's office operated within its allocations.
"Controller Greuel has always spent less than budgeted," Murphy said.