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L.A.'s top budget official warns of big cuts if tax measure fails

In a 48-page report, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana describes cuts to public safety as 'unavoidable' if Proposition A, mandating a half-cent sales tax hike, is rejected.

February 07, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles' top budget official, Miguel Santana, called for a 20% reduction in the starting salaries of new city employees in the face of a rising city budget deficit and the potential failure of a sales tax measure on the March 5 municipal ballot.
Los Angeles' top budget official, Miguel Santana, called for a 20%… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

The top budget official at Los Angeles City Hall warned Thursday that a defeat of a sales tax hike on the March 5 ballot could lead to a wide array of budget cuts, including closures of city swimming pools, elimination of crossing guards, reductions in graffiti cleanup and 500 fewer police officers.

In a 48-page report titled "City at a Crossroads," City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana described cuts to public safety as "unavoidable" if Proposition A is rejected. The city is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $220 million and Proposition A, if passed, would erase the vast majority of it.

Santana repeated a warning from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that staffing could be rolled back to roughly 9,500 officers if Proposition A is rejected. Defeat of the measure could also prompt the city to prepare a plan halting prosecution of misdemeanor crimes — turning that job over to the district attorney.

"Those are the only options left," Santana said in an email, referring to his list of potential cutbacks.

The report came out one day after the Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file police officers, voted to endorse Proposition A. City Council President Herb Wesson has already pressed the Service Employees International Union, which represents 10,000 civilian employees, to follow suit.

Proposition A would add a half-cent to every dollar of taxable sales in Los Angeles, leaving the city with one of the highest rates in California.

Jack Humphreville, who signed the ballot argument against Proposition A, said that city leaders have given away the store by granting pay increases to city workers even in the middle of an economic downturn. Those costs, he said, are snuffing out other city programs.

"They're trying to extort us," he said. "They're trying to scare the hell out of us by threatening basic public safety. Yet they're not controlling the largest cost factor, which is personnel expenses."

Humphreville complained that Proposition A is a permanent tax, unlike the state tax increase backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and approved by voters in November. He said homeowners are likely to get hit with another increase if county officials follow through on plans for imposing a clean-water fee on properties.

Santana said the city had already accomplished key budget-cutting measures, including cutting the workforce by thousands of employees and reducing retirement benefits for newly hired workers. He said that regardless of whether the tax hike passes, he would push for the starting salaries of new hires to be reduced 20%. That rollback has already been put into place for newly hired police officers. The average LAPD officer costs the city about $148,000 a year, including wages and benefits.

Ian Thompson, spokesman for SEIU Local 721, said the City Council should reject Santana's plan to cut the starting salaries of new hires. Thompson accused Santana of trying to send city workers "back to 1928, when only the super-rich had benefits and a decent standard of living."

"In the past few years, our members have been laid off, furloughed, taken retirement and healthcare cuts and the CAO is still wielding a hacksaw over our heads. We have had enough," Thompson said.

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