Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the current council face the immediate… (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg )
The City Council took some heat this week for agreeing to study Councilman Bernard C. Parks' proposals for additional budget cuts. But with city government at least $100 million in the hole just a few weeks before the mayor's deadline to propose a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and with annual costs continuing to rise faster than revenues, it would be irresponsible not to consider any reasonable option.
There is no reason to fear talking about Parks' 22 recommendations. Some are easy, such as the first: Leave any decision about whether to ask for tax hikes to the new administration that takes office in July. That's already a done deal, given voters' rejection on March 5 of a measure to permanently raise city sales taxes. Some face an uphill battle, such as the proposal that the council reverse its decision to adopt exclusive waste-hauling contracts for apartments and businesses. And some may be political nonstarters, such as making more city workers part time and contracting out much of what is now done in-house. But the council should still be aware of its choices and their comparative costs and benefits.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the current council face the immediate task of balancing one more budget, but if they take their jobs seriously, they will also take steps to resolve the structural budget problems L.A. will confront in the next five to 10 years. The new mayor and the new council must look at a third tier of change: envisioning the needs and resources of the city over the next two decades and constructing a viable program for meeting those needs and marshaling those resources. Imagine how much better off we would be today if such a program had been enacted 20 years ago. The city might not be in the position it's in, with infrastructure fit for the 1970s and agencies such as the Fire Department equipped for the needs of a previous generation.
Perhaps the new commission to study the city's budget and finances can help with some of that longer-term vision — even though that's just the kind of thinking that residents should be demanding of mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, instead of settling for the bromides and conflicting promises both have offered thus far. It's a bit unsettling that rather than being filled with experts on local government, the panel is made up of developers, labor leaders and political players. It is also troubling that for three months the commission's work, so crucial to the city's future, is to be conducted out of public view. But city leaders should be open to hearing and studying good ideas, wherever they originate.