Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a $7.7-billion budget Monday that begins to restore funding for tree trimming, sidewalk repairs and other services, offering the most positive financial news for residents since the city was engulfed in a budget crisis five years ago.
Buoyed by an extra $111 million in revenue, Villaraigosa's plan closes the budget deficit without layoffs or furloughs and provides money to add 65 firefighters, purchase 533 new vehicles at the Los Angeles Police Department and trim an additional 35,000 trees.
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With less than three months in his term, Villaraigosa called on the two mayoral candidates in the May 21 election -- City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti -- to eliminate a 5.5% salary increase for civilian city workers that he and the council negotiated, which goes into effect Jan. 1. He also urged the next mayor to show fiscal discipline, saying the city would have a $15-million surplus in 2017 if no raises were given to police officers, firefighters and other city workers during the next mayor's first term.
Los Angeles County government “went through four years of no raises, including police and fire [personnel], and we’re going to have to do the same,” the mayor said as he presented his budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Even in the depths of the city’s financial crisis in 2011, after layoffs and furloughs had been imposed, Villaraigosa and the council signed off on an agreement that gives five consecutive raises for police officers and firefighters over 24 months.
Neither Garcetti nor Greuel responded to inquiries from The Times. But in previous appearances, both have promised to sit down with employee unions for new talks over the 5.5% increase.
Villaraigosa's budget message was considerably more upbeat than the one offered by city officials a few months ago during the campaign for a measure hiking the city’s sales tax. Police Chief Charlie Beck and City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana -- two high-level officials selected by the mayor -- had offered dire warnings about the loss of hundreds of police officers and reductions in other services if voters failed to pass the tax.
Voters rejected Proposition A on March 5 despite those warnings. And one tax opponent said city leaders had not been truthful about the city's true financial health.
“No wonder the people of Los Angeles don’t trust City Hall,” said Jack Humphreville, who wrote the ballot argument against the March 5 tax hike. "The message they delivered [during the campaign] relied on faulty projections that they knew were faulty."
Villaraigosa and the City Council have repeatedly cut costs over the last five years, reducing the workforce by 5,300 positions. Throughout Monday’s budget presentation, the mayor repeatedly boasted that tough budget choices -- securing employee concessions on retirement benefits and other measures -- had steered the city away from a $1-billion budget shortfall.
Villaraigosa said he still wants every city employee to contribute 10% toward their healthcare. Representatives of the civilian city unions essentially ignored the mayor's demand for new concessions, releasing statements saying they are happy to see him provide more money for public services.
"City workers look forward to working with the next mayor to help keep our city on a positive financial track for all citizens,” said Cheryl Parisi, one of the leaders of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents roughly 18,000 city employees.
Villaraigosa's proposed budget also calls for the consolidation of two of the city's biggest agencies -- the Department of Building and Safety and the Department of Planning. And it moves ahead with plans for a new economic development department to replace the Community Redevelopment Agency, which was wiped out during the state financial crisis.
Also in the budget is $15 million to begin paying off thousands of hours in overtime that were worked by police officers but went uncompensated during the financial crisis. That LAPD "overtime bank" has grown dramatically since 2008, when the city first began grappling with major budget shortfalls.