“Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling farther behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a city in decline.”
This opening statement in the Los Angeles 2020 Commission’s report, “A Time for Truth,” is the first of many salvos in a well-researched report that the Los Angeles Times called a “stark reality check” for our City’s elected officials.
The Truth Report outlines many afflictions impacting our city, including a weak job creating economy, a third world barbell economy where the middle class is disappearing, a dysfunctional public school system, and a stifling regulatory environment that makes LA the “least business friendly city” in the region.
The Truth Report is also critical of our elected officials who have evaded making the “hard choices” concerning the city’s finances. The city has “chronic budget deficits” because of skyrocketing increases in pensions, benefits and salaries. We have significant reductions in service levels, including the failure to maintain our streets and sidewalks and slower response times by the Fire Department.
The Truth Report also discussed the City Hall’s “budget gimmickry,” its “stopgap measures and band-aid solutions,” and “pie in the sky revenue forecasts” that have made finances less than transparent. One highlighted scam is the shortchanging of our seriously underfunded pension plans by at least $400 million a year by relying on overly optimistic rates of return on its pension assets. If the city were honest, next year’s budget deficit would increase from $250 million to $650 million, a staggering 13 percent of revenues. Ouch!
The LA 2020 Commission, headed by former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, promised concrete measures by April 8 on how to make our city “transparent, accountable and effective.” The real question is whether Mayor Garcetti and the Herb Wesson-led City Council have the guts to take necessary actions, including revisions to the charter, to secure the city’s financial future despite the furious opposition of the self serving, campaign-funding leadership of the City’s unions.
By Jack Humphreville, Chronicle Squeaky Wheel columnist; he is on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, chair of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a budget advocate.