Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA Mayoral Race 2013: Mayoral candidates face questions on city employees' benefits at KPCC debate

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In their third meeting this week, the five leading candidates for mayor of Los Angeles faced tough questions Wednesday night on how much public employees should pay toward their health care and retirement costs.

AirTalk’s Larry Mantle hosted the debate in the Crawford Family Forum at KPCC. During the live broadcast, he pressed candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez on how they might restructure benefits for city workers.

Pleitez, who had a stint at Goldman Sachs, pushed for a plan that would allow workers to cash out their pension benefits now, thus relieving the city of future obligations. He also pushed for a one-to-one match on pension benefits and health care.

Mantle noted a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report that says private sector employees pay, on average, one-fourth of their healthcare costs.     

RELATED: Archived video of AirTalk's debate among the LA mayoral candidates

Asked a similar question, Garcetti noted that city workers now pay 11 percent toward their retirement and health care — a significant increase from a few years ago. He also declined to say what the city of Los Angeles should pay toward those costs — in good times or bad.

“We have to not be lazy and just look at cuts and taxes. We have to look at growing the economy,” Garcetti said. “To me, it’s not a philosophical question. It’s a management question.”

When investments are down, employees should expect to pay more into their retirement, Greuel said, citing pensions for police officers.

“There are models out there where there is that shared responsibility of when times are bad that people contribute more,” Greuel said.

Without any risk to the employee, pension managers are more likely to take risks with retirement funds, James said.

“They can be just completely reckless and there’s no accountability,” he said.

Early on in the debate, the candidates were asked about their ability to work with members of the Los Angeles City Council. During the most recent round of redistricting, Perry’s Ninth District was radically altered, with the downtown portion moving into the Fourteenth District. The councilwoman said she gave up her leadership position on the council because she was disappointed in its direction.

“All of my colleagues, with the exception of [Bernard] Parks, did vote against the interests of the community that I was elected to represent,” Perry said.

Playing to something of an outsider status, Perry said that she approaches politics first and foremost with the community’s concerns in mind.

RELATED: KPCC reporters' archived Twitter stream from LA mayoral debate

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