LA City Council delays decision on layoffs to address budget crisis

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday put off tough decisions on a looming budget crisis – despite warnings that any delay would only worsen the city’s financial position. Hundreds of people packed City Council chambers to lobby against budget cuts.

For 22 years, Linda Pickler’s worked for the city of Los Angeles. The systems analyst for the Internet Technology Agency said she could be among those laid off under budget cuts proposed by L.A.’s chief administrative officer.

“It seems like it's all being balanced on our backs," she told the City Council.

Labor union leaders railed against a recommendation by the city’s chief administrative officer to eliminate at least a thousand city jobs. Bob Schoonover of the Service Employees International Union, Local 721, said the city needs to collect its bills first.

“$600 million are owed the citizens of the city of Los Angeles and we need that collected."

City administrators said L.A. likely could collect only a fraction of that amount, and it wouldn’t cover this year’s more than $200 million deficit or next years $485 million shortfall.

Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana insisted that layoffs are the only long-term solution.

Most council members rejected the advice.

"I don’t think we’re going to need to engage in these layoffs this soon. I don’t know if we’ll have to do it ever," Councilman Paul Koretz said.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn opposed proposals to consolidate or close a number of smaller city departments.

“I have a lot of questions about the disability department, I have a lot of questions about neighborhood council, I have a lot of questions about cultural affairs," Hahn said.

“I think what we might be moving toward is having long meetings on the budget more holistically," Councilman Tony Cardenas said.

The council delayed any decisions on layoffs for at least a month, and promised to search for other cuts or efficiencies.

The chair of the council’s budget committee warned against the delay, saying it only worsened the deficit. Bernard Parks said he was amazed at how many of his colleague "squirmed" at making the tough decisions.

“There are not that many options to move forward on and no matter how long we talk about them, they are not going to get better," Parks said. "So we are going to have to find a way to have the will to all do our job.”

Santana said bond ratings companies already have said they plan to lower L.A.’s rating – a move that’ll make it more expensive for the city to borrow money for operating costs in the coming months.

During the meeting, a long line of Angelinos protested proposed cuts to city services.

Artist Luis Rodriquez opposed a proposal to close the Cultural Affairs Department. "If the arts are taken away, we don’t revive our communities, we don’t revive our kids. We have gang kids who are now painting and doing art who would be in the streets hurting people. We have kids who are alive because of the arts.”

Councilman Richard Alarcon opposed scaling back a program that pays the trash pickup fee for very low income seniors and people with disabilties.

“Senior citizens, disabled and the poor. Let's make them pay for this budget crisis because Lord knows they’re do so well right now. This is a horrible proposal.”

Councilman Greig Smith said it’s the kind of cut the city must make as it faces its worst budget crisis in history.

“It is a matter of fiscal responsibility. We don’t have the money. We’ve been very generous for a very long time but the gravy train has run out of gravy.”

The council planned to reconvene next week, to resume discussions about how to confront a budget shortfall brought on by plummeting tax revenues and a growing pension obligation.

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