Explaining Southern California's economy

Time to privatize the L.A. Zoo?

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Patricia Nazario/KPCC

The LA Zoo's Elephants of Asia Exhibit opened this past December. If the Zoo were privatized, it would save the city almost $18 million per year.

I've been digging through Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's budget proposal for Los Angeles' fiscal 2012-13. The bottom line is that the Mayor, through cuts and revenue enhancements, plans to eliminate a $200-million-plus deficit in a total budget of $7.2 billion. 

When you ponder the numbers, it's the very large ones that jump out at you:

• A police department that costs $1.3 billion to fund and consumes $449 million in pension payments, which when totaled account for nearly a quarter of the entire budget

• A City Attorney's office that costs nearly $100 million

• A city zoo that gobbles up almost $18 million per year

Okay, so that last number isn't all that huge. However, within the context of the budget deficit — $238 million — the zoo represents almost 8 percent. (And it's not even the total cost to operate the zoo, which is about $26 million annually.) You don't have to be an investment genius to recognize that figuring out a way to unload that cost would yield the city a decent return and reduce the need to, say, lay off clerks in the LAPD, something that Chief Charlie Beck has said will require the department to change the way it handles some of its business.

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Herman Cain says his plan to reform Social Security worked for Chile, but can it work in the USA?

Herman Cain is now polling alongside perpetual Republican kinda sorta frontrunner Mitt Romney. Today, KPCC's AirTalk did a segment on the sudden arrival of the Cain Train. Time to get up to speed on everything the pizza king stands for, and fast! Yesterday, it was the 9-9-9 plan to reform the tax system. Today, it's Cain's scheme to fix Social Security.

In the CNN/Tea Party Debate, Cain said his plan could copy the "Chilean Model" (see the above video). So what does that mean?

It means privatizing Social Security, as Chile did in the early 1980s. José Piñera, the Chilean government official who oversaw the conversion of his country's social security system from its classic model to one based on private investment accounts, explained how and why he did it, back in 1997 (his account now lives on the Cato Institute site).

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