Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today vetoed a motion that called for putting a portion of the City Council's discretionary funds into a salary account controlled by Sixth District Councilman Tony Cardenas.
However, questions have been raised over whether Villaraigosa has authority to veto the expenditure.
"The Street Furniture Revenue Fund is intended to fund transit-related projects, sidewalk repair and other community beautification projects,'' Villaraigosa wrote in a letter to the City Council. "It is not intended to augment elected officials' staff salary accounts.''
"The subject motion's attempt to misuse the Street Furniture Revenue Fund by augmenting the general salary account of Council District Six is fiscally imprudent and is hereby VETOED,'' he added.
In the motion, Cardenas sought to take $142,000 of the profit collected by the city from advertisements posted on bus shelters and kiosks in his district, and put it in his salary account.
There was no immediate response to a call to Cardenas' office seeking comment.
Cardenas' spokesman told the Los Angeles Times the councilman intended to use the money to pay the salaries of three deputies who attend to street work and illegal dumping problems, and two aides working on speed bump and other transportation issues in his San Fernando Valley district.
Cardenas' motion also sought to transfer $38,000 into the Board of Public Works Fund to help the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce pay for bulky-item pickup, and graffiti and weed abatement; and $97,500 to the North East Graffiti Busters.
Sarah Hamilton, an aide to Villaraigosa, said he also vetoed the $38,000 expenditure but not the $97,000, saying "it is not subject to mayoral veto authority.''
Sharon Tso, executive officer in the city's Chief Legislative Analyst's office, believes none of the Street Furniture Revenue Funds is subject to the mayor's authority.
Tso cited a provision in Los Angeles' Administrative Code, which states: "Expenditures from the (Street Furniture Revenue) Fund shall be made from each Council District account, as authorized by the council member representing that Council District and by the City Council.''
"I don't believe that the mayor is included anywhere within that Administrative Code section,'' Tso pointed out.
Matt Szabo, Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, said Sections 341 and 342 in the city Charter gave the mayor power to veto Cardenas' motion.
Tso said those provisions governed the transfer of funds that are specifically identified in the city budget and there "do not apply'' in this case.
It is not clear whether the City Council will recognize the veto and try to override it with 10 votes.
In his letter, Villaraigosa warned them against doing that, saying "First you should consider whether a prolonged, controversial and very public debate over a possible override of this veto is worth the council's valuable time -- particularly given the enormous amount of work before us as we attempt to balance this fiscal year's budget and prepare to close next fiscal year's $485 million deficit.
"Second, you should carefully consider the message a Council override of this veto would send to the national credit rating agencies,'' Villaraigosa added.
"The city's most recent downgrade by Standard & Poor's and negative outlook by Moody's Investor Service each referenced their respective fears that the council appears unable to make the necessary decisions to balance the budget and strengthen our financial position. An override of this veto would confirm those fears.'' Cardenas' motion was approved by every member of the City Council present on the day it was heard -- except for Councilman Bernard Parks, who said he did not support the transfer of discretionary funds into any council member's salary account.
Villaraigosa has repeatedly called on council members to transfer their unappropriated discretionary funds into the Reserve Fund, which is set aside for emergencies and which credit rating agencies closely monitor.
There is $230 million in the Reserve Fund, but officials plan to use $200 million of it to balance the books this fiscal year.
The veto was Villaraigosa's first of a discretionary fund transfer, his veto since becoming mayor on July 1, 2005, Hamilton said.