US & World

Mayors meet in DC; Villaraigosa looking for transportation loans

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at US Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, DC.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at US Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, DC.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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Mayors from around the country are in Washington, DC this week for their winter meeting. Transportation was once again front and center for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

One of the people to speak with the mayor was the new Republican Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Villaraigosa says he gave John Duncan of Tennessee the same pitch he made to Congress last year, when Democrats controlled the House.

But he’s highlighting the points he thinks will get bipartisan support, such as rewarding local governments like LA County where voters have already put up their own money for projects. Villaraigosa also wants transportation loans rather than a pile of cash.

"This is a great way for them to create jobs now in a partnership with cities," he says, and "not spend too much of the federal treasury, and importantly, get their money back down the line."

Congress is expected to pass a multi-year transportation bill in 2011. Villaraigosa wants more money set aside for transportation loans and infrastructure bonds. Both could help LA County build its transit system more quickly.

Job creation was on the mind of Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin. He says the federal government can help with more than just money: it can help cities such as his by tailoring policies to encourage job creation.

"I don’t think cities are under any illusion to expect a bailout," he says. "Because certainly the American public I think is not fond of those either, and very appropriately. But I think what we hope is that there’s more greater focus and importance placed on local cities and local communities because these are where the jobs are created."

Gin says it’s up to individual cities to balance their own budgets. He adds he’s gearing up for a fight with Sacramento lawmakers to make sure cuts in the state budget don’t hurt economic development in Redondo Beach.

In the meantime, times are lean in cities across America.

Miguel Pulido has served as mayor of Santa Ana for 16 years. He says he’s already cut his city’s budget by about 25 percent.

"And what we’re having to do is talk to our labor unions and talk about what we can afford and can’t afford."

Pulido says so far, "we’ve been getting a lot of concessions, especially from police and fire. But once you ask once or you ask twice, it’s very hard to do so the third time. Yet that is what is different this year. It’s now the third time that we’re having to do this."

Next week, Pulido and mayors from nearly a dozen large California cities are meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown to talk about the next round of state budget cuts and how they'll affect local governments.