Budget hearing kicks off with city attorney defending his office

Los Angeles City Hall

Omar Omar/Flickr CC

Hearings on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed budget for 2012-13 kicked off today with testimony from City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and the city's top budget official.

As the first day of budget hearings got underway at City Hall, a frustrated City Attorney Carmen Trutanich appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee today to portray his employees as the city treasury's first and last defense.

Members of the committee met for four hours to begin deliberations on the city's 2012-13 spending plan. During his appearance before the committee, Trutanich repeatedly pointed out that deputy city attorneys have been laid off and furloughed since he took office in 2009.

“You can’t defend the city with no army,” he said. “We are the guards at the front of the gate to the treasury. Take them away and see what the crooks do.”

“If I wanted to bankrupt this city, if these lawyers didn’t care and wanted to stop – it would be an overnight event,” Trutanich said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed budget allocates $98.5 million for the City Attorney’s Office in the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

“The focus of our office is no longer service to the council. The focus of our office is defending the treasury and public safety,” Trutanich said.

The hearing began with a presentation from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who outlined the proposed $7.6 billion budget. The fiscal plan calls for the elimination of 669 jobs – 231 of which are filled by employees. Two-thirds of those layoffs are aimed at clerks and administrative staff in the Los Angeles Police Department however, that number will likely change.

“Ultimately, the actual number of people that will no longer work for the city will very likely not be 231,” Santana said. “That number is likely to go down significantly after the Personnel Department goes through its process.”

The city has a policy of keeping 5 percent of its General Fund in a reserve account. Though the fund typically falls short of that goal, this year's reserve fund at $221 million is the largest in the city’s history. Santana said the reserve fund is not “a luxury item.”

“It’s an essential part of us being able to get the strongest interest rates when we go out to market. It is what investors and bond rating agencies look at to assess the strength of our finances,” Santana said.

The Budget and Finance Committee will reconvene on Monday to discuss the budgets of the police and fire departments.

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