(May 21, 2020) – Mike had the following to say about the 2020-21 Los Angeles city budget and the city council’s deliberations at today’s special meeting: 

We need a city budget that meets the urgent demands of this moment of crisis — and we need to find a way to do so while revenues are shrinking, the economy is flailing, and the pace of recovery is uncertain.

Earlier today, the City Council considered Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Council referred it back to the Budget and Finance Committee, on which I sit.  We are going to need to rewrite a proposed budget that simultaneously expects more revenue than we will get while also making deeper cuts than we can tolerate. To do that, we will need to work with our labor partners to reopen labor contracts.

Here’s where we are as of today: the mayor’s team had to submit a proposed budget in mid-April, to meet a charter-mandated deadline. They had to do so quickly, under pressure, and amid tremendous uncertainty due to the rapidly changing circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis. The Council now has time to take a more deliberative approach, with more current information. 

That’s good because the mayor’s proposed budget relies heavily on furloughs for many civilian employees, which mean cuts in city services. It proposes an increase in spending on public safety, and yet it still winds up cutting public safety. (That sounds oxymoronic, but it’s that kind of year – more on it below.)

When employees work 10% less (as the furloughs call for), services suffer. Not only are we looking at cuts in basic city services, such as parks, street resurfacing, installation of traffic signals and pedestrian improvements, and more, but we are looking at cuts in the programs that are most in-demand during this crisis. For example: 

  • Our Housing Department says furloughs will reduce its ability to provide services to tenants, to prevent poverty and homelessness, to help victims of domestic violence, and to create affordable housing. These are all some of our highest priorities.
  • Our Economic Development Department says furloughs will mean a delay in services to thousands of workers and businesses seeking services, including the Small Business Emergency Microloans, Rapid Response, Dislocated Workers & Hire LA Youth programs. All of these programs provide economic relief are in high demand as the economy worsens.
  • Our Department of Aging says civilian furloughs will mean delays in services to seniors and impacts to the Senior Meal Delivery Program, which is a lifeline for so many.

Here’s the big twist: while increasing spending overall on public safety, the budget’s civilian cuts hurt public safety — across the board:

    • Our Emergency Management Department says civilian furloughs will reduce the readiness of the Emergency Operations Center and delay mass notification response times.
    • Our Information & Technology Agency says furloughs will increase cybersecurity risks. 
    • Our Fire Department says it will hurt fleet availability. 
    • And the budget proposes to cut crime prevention programs, such as gang reduction, youth development and Summer Nights Lights. Those are investments in public safety.
    • While this budget increases LAPD funding, it actually hurts efforts to stop crime. To accommodate civilian furloughs and a hiring freeze, LAPD says it will need to backfill civilian jobs with sworn officers, cutting patrol by a whopping 220,000 hours! That means slower 911 response times and fewer neighborhood patrols, among other impacts. It reverses years of effort to increase neighborhood patrols and improve response times.

What’s really disturbing about these cuts is that they come as part of a proposed budget based on extremely optimistic revenue projections. In reality, we may need to cut $50-400 million more, depending on how fast the economy recovers. That means the choices are furloughs, layoffs, or reopening contracts and delaying raises, or some combination.

I am urging our budget officials to reopen contract negotiations with our labor partners to find strategies, including deferred raises, to avoid furloughs and to prevent cuts to affordable housing, small business loans, senior services, emergency preparedness, public safety, and core city services.

Getting through this crisis is going to require as many options as possible. Contract negotiations take months, so they need to begin now so that the city has choices to prevent layoffs and preserve the services you rely upon.

That’s basically what I said during today’s budget deliberations, and it is what I believe we need to do to move forward as a city. The whole budget now goes back to our Budget & Finance Committee, upon which I sit, for a busy month of further consideration. To weigh in on your priorities, you can add a comment to the council file (CF# 20-0600) here: https://bit.ly/2LQXZom

The work ahead will be difficult, but it will also be essential as we begin to rebuild in the wake of this crisis. Thank you for your partnership and patience as we work together to move Los Angeles forward, do good, and get things done for our neighborhoods.