LA budget committee recommends laying off 1,700 city employees

Los Angeles city workers like 39-year-old Art Sweatman successfully lobbied the city council to preserve an early retirement program for up to 2,700 city employees and avert layoffs and furloughs.
Los Angeles city workers like 39-year-old Art Sweatman successfully lobbied the city council to preserve an early retirement program for up to 2,700 city employees and avert layoffs and furloughs.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

More than 1,700 positions could be eliminated under a spending plan approved today by the Los Angeles City Council's Budget and Finance Committee to help close the city's projected $492 million deficit.

Councilman Bernard Parks, chairman of the committee, said the "bulk'' of those positions are filled by employees who would be issued pink slips unless alternative solutions are found to close the budget gap.

The committee will present its report to the full City Council on Friday.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's original budget proposal called for laying off about 750 employees.

Parks, however, said those calculations were based on revenue projections that were "too ambitious.''

The committee also eliminated about $53 million in projected revenue from plans to lease city-owned parking garages. Parks called it "fake money'' until the contracts are signed.

The committee also decided to lower the expected revenue from sales taxes; reduce the budget cut for the City Attorney's Office; and reinstate 911 dispatchers who would have been furloughed, among other things.

After those adjustments were made, the $492 million deficit in the proposed budget grew by another $93 million.

To compensate, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller recommended eliminating 1,761 positions instead of 750.

"This is 1,000 more positions than was proposed by the mayor, which are necessitated by the reduction in revenues and need to fund some of the obligatory increases that became apparent throughout the committee hearings,'' he said.

"Absent mitigating measures such as wage concessions, further reductions in the work week, additional revenues and/or other expenditure changes, position eliminations and layoffs will be implemented.''

The committee approved Miller's recommendation by a vote of 5-2. Councilmen Jose Huizar and Paul Koretz opposed the plan.

Huizar and Koretz also tried to block Villaraigosa's recommendation to close a number of child care centers, and to have libraries operate only five days a week instead of six.

Again, they were overruled by Parks and council members Greig Smith, Dennis Zine, Jan Perry and Bill Rosendahl.

"There's no creative thinking in this city,'' Huizar said. "The parents and families who will be affected wanted to work with us and come up with solutions -- for example, a sliding scale fee policy -- but the city would not listen.''

Huizar said libraries could have been spared if the city kept its priorities straight.

"We're funding a number of different events in the city, and we only look at the surface of all these departments' budgets,'' he said. "We could have gone a lot more creative, we just didn't put the work into it.''

Koretz objected to a plan to close the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter, warning it would result in more animals being euthanized. The committee decided to further examine the issue.

The budget proposal also called for thousands of city employees to take up to 26 unpaid days off. Miller said it would result in the equivalent of an additional 1,000 positions being vacant during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Over the last several months, the city has issued pink slips to 100 city employees, transferred nearly 500 others to proprietary departments, and granted early retirement to 2,400 city workers, according to budget officials.

"Clearly, services to the public and city employees have been severely impacted by reductions to date, and the 2010-2011 budget will continue and expand those impacts,'' Miller said.

"While we recognize that city employees have already sacrificed a great deal as a result of the city's fiscal situation, it must be noted that many, if not all, of the service reductions could be mitigated by reductions in the city's payroll through wage concessions, additional contributions to health care and pensions and other potential on-going actions,'' he said.

Miller also recommended the "virtual elimination'' of cash overtime for police officers, and the continuation of the Modified Coverage Plan which takes several fire trucks and ambulances out of service.