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LA City Council Does Nothing To Ease Fiscal Crisis; Did Mayor Save The Day?

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These may well become the most famous, or infamous, words in recent LA history, and they come courtesy of an LA City Councilman at a council meeting the other day that essentially accomplished nothing. Said Herb Wesson, "I just have this weird feeling that we are going in the wrong direction."

Sort of a variation of "we're not in Kansas anymore!" Though, at this point in time, Kansas is probably a lot more functional than is the city of Los Angeles. And, maybe more solvent.

Wesson's quoted comment stems from his apparent frustration with the inability of the L.A. City Council to actually make a decision about whether to cut an estimated 1,000 jobs to help bridge a $218 million budget gap. A decision has been put off for 30 more days.

But each and every one of those days puts the entire city ever closer to fiscal ruin. And, if that is not bad enough (and it is pretty bad), the city, reports the LA Times, faces yet a bigger shortfall of an estimated $484 million come the first of July. The paper reports that City Administrative Officer Miquel Santana is concerned, as well he should be, that the delayed council vote will force the downgrading of the city's bond rating. This will only make matters worse (I know, hard to imagine!) by increasing the cost of borrowing.

Nice going, City Council.

Enter Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who late Thursday dramatically announced that he would take the initiative (at least someone is!) and order the elimination of 1,000 city jobs.

"We're living beyond our means, we have difficult choices to make, we must protect our economic future," says Mayor V. And, then, as if reading from a page from Councilman Wesson's script, he goes on to say, "Unfortunately, instead of making progress, we are headed in the wrong direction [sound familiar?]. That ends today."

But does it?

For one thing, it appears as if the "elimination" of 1,000 jobs may not be that at all, at least not in the short run.

The notion seems to be to transfer some 360 of these "eliminated" workers to positions that do not pay out of the troubled, crisis-stricken fund. Fair enough. Though, I hasten to add, I don't know of any city or state agency or post that can truly be said to be crisis-free in this current fiscal climate.

It gets more problematic, however, when it comes to the remaining positions. Contractual agreements between the city and the Coalition for LA City Unions reportedly bar the mayor from laying off union workers till at least the first of July, almost half a year down the road!

So, in the end, how many city workers will actually be removed from the payroll is not clear.

But, hey, at least Villaraigosa has the political sense to appear as if he is accomplishing something! And, maybe his announcement will head off the feared downgrading of the city's bond rating?

Contrast his actions with the spineless non-action of the City Council.

Look, no one wants to have to lay people off, especially in this economy. But unlike the federal government, cities and states simply cannot print money. Sooner or later, they have to come to terms with the reality of their financial situation.

For Los Angeles, we are past the sooner and later part and well into the "Jesus, what the $#@! happens now?" part.

The idea of putting a decision off, as far as the Council was concerned, is that this will give its members time to come up with other revenue sources so as not to have to lay city workers off.

Also unclear at this writing is whether the Council will still try to come up with ways of revenue raising to head of actual layoffs... either the real or imagined kind?

The sad truth is that it will no doubt take a potent combination of both layoffs and new sources of revenue to begin to bring the city back from the brink. At this point, neither, alone, is likely to do the trick.

Councilman Greig Smith is correct when he says, "We're becoming Sacramento south. We're sticking our heads in the sand and hoping it goes away."

It won't. Not in 30 days, or 60 days or 100 days. It will only get worse.

When Council President Eric Garcetti says the 30 day delay will give the council time to come up with -- anything but layoffs -- alternatives, I suspect his eyes are really looking toward his own political future in the city than toward the fiscal bottom line. I totally understand that it is difficult running for Mayor on a platform that includes laying off 1,000 people and maybe more. Since Villaraigosa will be leaving City Hall, hell, what does he care? In fact, showing fiscal responsibility may even help his image should he opt to run for higher office someday?

Hard decisions are called for. I was about to write, before it is too late. Only, I fear it might already be!

Charles Feldman is a journalist , media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting for KNX 1070 Newsradio.