Facing projected deficits totaling nearly a billion dollars over the next five years, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said Wednesday he wants to appoint former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor to head a panel that would examine the city’s books. Kantor, who served under President Bill Clinton, lives in Los Angeles.
“This would be a high level commission that would review the fiscal stability of the city of Los Angeles,” Wesson told KPCC.
Wesson said it's not that he distrusts the budget numbers from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller.
“No, no, no, no,” Wesson said emphatically outside city council chambers. “Sometimes it's just a good thing to have an outside eye.”
Labor union leaders who represent city workers have accused Santana of distorting the city’s financial picture to push an anti-labor agenda. Wesson, who is closely aligned with labor, suggested that Department of Water and Power union chief Brian D’Arcy could sit on the panel.
“Where it relates to finances in the city, he’s brilliant,” Wesson said. City Councilwoman Jan Perry was dubious of D’Arcy possibly being named to the panel.
“Why you would chose someone whom you will face at the bargaining table in a short while," noted Perry, adding that it seems "an inherent conflict.”
In a conversation with KPCC Wednesday afternoon, Kantor said Wesson called him “a few weeks ago” about heading the panel. He said he’s putting together a group of about a dozen people, and that investment banker and former mayoral candidate Austin Beutner will co-chair the committee.
“It will be totally independent – connected to no elected officials,” Kantor said.
He said the group would look at issues beyond the city’s fiscal stability, including job creation and investments. “First we’ll try to see what the facts are and what the problems are," Kantor said. "And we’ll try to offer a solution.”
The Democratic Party heavyweight said labor unions would be well-represented because “the city workers are a vital part of our community, and labor has great influence at City Hall.” He did would not say whether D’Arcy would serve on the panel.
Kantor said he’d announce the panel late next week, and that he hoped to recruit volunteers to serve as a staff.
Wesson promised the panel would include a diversity of views: "Individuals that are lefties, individuals that are righties, individuals that are right down the center."
Voters recently rejected a sales tax increase championed by the council president. The city is facing a projected $216 million deficit next year, fueled in part by rising pension costs.
A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said his office is in the midst of preparing the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and had no comment on Wesson’s plan. Villaraigosa is expected to release his proposed budget next month.
Wesson’s idea arrives amid a heated political campaign to succeed Villaraigosa. A spokesman for mayoral candidate and current City Councilman Eric Garcetti said he had no comment. His opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, called Wesson’s approach “refreshing.” (Greuel announced Wednesday that former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan is joining her campaign as an economic adviser.)
Wesson has yet to endorse a candidate in the mayor's race.