LA budget: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs $6.9 billion budget

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today signed a $6.9 billion budget that avoids layoffs or widespread mandatory employee furloughs thanks largely to concessions by city workers on pensions.

The mayor was surrounded by a group of teens and flanked by Council Members Bernard Parks and Bill Rosendahl, both of the Budget and Finance Committee, when he signed the city's the spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 at Martin Luther King Jr. park in South Los Angeles.

"This budget charts a path that will stabilize city revenues and expenditures in the midst of turbulent tides and in the midst of financial crisis," Villaraigosa said.

The mayor said the final budget, which went through weeks of deliberations in the city council and closes a $336 million deficit, does not rely on fine print or gimmicks but was balanced by what he called the "the
most far-reaching pension concessions package in the United States of America."

Almost all civilian city workers agreed to pay 2 to 4 percent of their salaries toward their retirement health care, reducing the city's immediate pension obligation. "It's a gift that keeps on giving. It's a structural
change," Villaraigosa said.

However, the budget does rely on about $41 million in concessions yet to be accepted by the union representing police officers. Those negotiations are under way behind closed doors.

The mayor said that if police officers represented by the Los Angeles Police Protective League do not agree to pay toward the retirement benefits or accept other concessions, he could furlough officers or impose other cuts on them without their agreement.

"In all of those situations where a bargaining unit does not agree to the concessions, we'll just have to make appropriate changes to reflect that," Villaraigosa said.

Deputy city attorneys have rejected the city's contract offer. They will incur 36 days of forced furloughs in the fiscal year the begins July 1.

The budget relies on a controversial new fire deployment plan that will save the city about $54 million this budget year and saves about $80 million by forcing police officers to take more paid time off in lieu of overtime.

The plan also cuts the mayoral, city council and neighborhood council budgets each by 10 percent and eliminates 600 city positions that are not currently filled. Over the last three budgets the city has "cut about $1.5 billion in deficit spending, more than 4,000 positions," Villaraigosa said.

The mayor touted the budget's preservation of money to pay for nearly 6,000 kids to have summer jobs through the city and in partnership with private organizations. That number is significantly down from about 15,500 jobs provided last year, mostly because of federal budget cuts and the end of stimulus money for a program launched by the mayor in 2006.

The Budget and Finance Committee added an additional $1 million to the mayor's original proposed budget for summer jobs, and Council Members Richard Alarcon, Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl each contributed $200,000 of their discretionary budgets to add to the pot.

The budget signed by the mayor also reopens public libraries on Mondays, funds the repair of 300,000 potholes and pays for expanded tree trimming.

"It's important that we realizes our successes as we move forward,'' Parks said. "But as the mayor knows, we still have a lot of work to do. All we need is a percentage or two downturn in our revenues and we start the cycle all over again.''

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