How Long Will LA’s “Pragmatic” Mayor Continue to Kick the Can Down the Road?

LA WATCHDOG--Alexander Nazaryan’s Op-Ed column in the Los Angeles Times, Let’s Compare Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, paints a positive image of Mayor Eric Garcetti, an “embodiment of pragmatic politics,” compared to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, an “ideologue driven by a self-serving fervor who easts his pizza with a knife and fork.”

Unfortunately, Nazaryan does not have a good understanding of the responsibilities of the City of Los Angeles compared to those of the Big Apple.  

The City of Los Angeles is not responsible for education, although many wish that Garcetti would take his head out of the sand and lead the reform of the dysfunctional Los Angeles Unified School District. 

The City is also not responsible social services, welfare, public health, criminal justice, and jails. 

The most telling difference is that NYC has a budget of $10,000 for each of it 8.5 million residents while LA’s General Fund is only $1,500 for its each 4 million residents.  

Nazaryan also failed to focus on Garcetti’s role in the City’s continuing budget deficits, the overly generous labor contracts, its deteriorating infrastructure, and its unfunded pension liabilities.  Many believe that Garcetti is the primary culprit as he was a member of the City Council for twelve years, the President of the Council for six years, and Mayor for the last five years.  

As part of his Back to Basics Priority Outcomes, Garcetti promised to have the City “live within its financial means.” But this is not the case despite a rip roaring economy that would have permitted the City to eliminate its budget deficit and, at the same time, begin the systematic repair its streets and the proper funding of its pension plans. 

Since Garcetti became Mayor, General Fund revenues have increased $1.4 billion, a 31% bump. Yet the City is anticipating a budget gap of $200 million next year, in large part because ever increasing salaries, healthcare benefits, and pension contributions.  This does not include the unaffordable raises that are being demanded by the union leaders for the City’s civilian employees and the police that will increase the budget shortfall by $50 to $100 million.    

Garcetti also promised to repair and maintain our streets.  But after five years in office, there is still no plan to fix our streets that are considered to be some of the worst in the nation.  

There has also been no meaningful reform of the City’s two pension plans that are underfunded by over $20 billion according to Moody’s, the national bond rating service.  As a result, annual pension contributions will continue to devour more and more of the General Fund, crowding out basic services such as public safety and the repair of our streets, parks, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure. 

Over the last several years, the City has raided the Reserve Fund to balance the budget despite a 31% increase in revenues.  While City Hall will tell us that reserves in the range of 7% of General Fund revenues ($400 million) are sufficient to weather an adverse economy, Governor Brown and the City Administrative Officer recommend 10%, implying a $200 million shortfall.  

Garcetti’s solution is to raise our taxes.  In the last two years, the tax burden has increased by $600 for every Angeleno ($2.4 billion in total) when taking into consideration not only the City, but the County and the State.  This does not include the pot tax, the exclusive trash franchise tax, or the linkage tax and does not take into account additional taxes that are being considered by the County, LAUSD, and the State.  

Garcetti brings a new meaning to the word pragmatic.  He refuses to address the City’s river of red ink in a “realistic and sensible” manner.  The same goes for rationalizing the City’s work force, the repair of our deteriorating infrastructure, and reforming the two underfunded pension plans.  

In world of Nazaryan and Garcetti, pragmatic means avoiding tough decisions that will antagonize the leaders of the City’s unions and organized labor because they hold the key to Garcetti’s upward mobility. 

How long will Mayor Eric Garcetti continue to kick the can down our lunar cratered streets? Will he dump the City’s Structural Deficit, the deferred maintenance backlog, and the unfunded pension liabilities on the next two or three generations of Angelenos?  Or will he step up to the plate and do what is in the best interest of all Angelenos, not the just the chosen few that occupy City Hall?

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at: