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L.A. County prepares to unveil balanced, 'pre-recession' budget

April 11, 2013|By Abby Sewell

Los Angeles County officials said Thursday they were preparing to unveil a budget that would mark the beginning of an emergence from years of austerity.

The county has weathered the recession without layoffs or furloughs, but county departments have seen their budgets cut 15% on average over the last five years. Most county employees have gone without raises during that period.

The $24.7-billion budget proposal to be released Monday will, for the first time in five years, contain no cuts and no deficit, county officials said.

David Sommers, spokesman for county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka, characterized the spending plan as "not so much a growth budget as going back to pre-recession times."

The county is preparing to enter into labor negotiations next month, and already unions have signaled that they will push for a pay increase. SEIU Local 721, which represents 55,000 county employees, is hoping to turn out thousands of members for a "rally for raises" Tuesday, when Fujioka formally presents the proposed budget to the county Board of Supervisors. 

Sommers said raises will be a topic of discussion during negotiations.

"Our board is very much aware that employees have gone five years without salary increases or cost of living increases," he said. 

Sommers said the proposal was based on a conservative estimate of revenues, but the figure could be revised upward based on property tax collections.

Some county supervisors have been vocal about the contrast with the budget plight at nearby L.A. City Hall. 

At a recent lunch forum, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky blamed the 2007 decision to raise thousands of city workers' pay by 25% over five years for creating a crisis that forced the city to cut back on services such as graffiti removal.

"We've lived within our means. The city's got to live within its means, and that means sometimes you have to say no to your friends," Yaroslavsky said.

The county's proposed budget is down by more than $600 million from last year, largely because of capital projects that have been completed, Sommers said.

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 abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

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