Last month marked the completion of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first year in office as well as the passage of his first city budget. How will the new administration’s plans affect South LA residents? And what do these plans say about the long-term direction in which we’re headed?
In some ways, the new city budget seems to reflect the spirit of change that we’ve been asking for: $91 million in new public services; $20 million to repair sidewalks; and funding to keep libraries open longer. All important services to South LA residents. But the pressing issues that prevent our families from having the quality of life they deserve have largely been ignored, and other cuts actually undermine aspects of the mayor’s own agenda for change, such as job creation and sustainable financial stability.
For starters, the budget maintains a 30 percent reduction in city workforce. Since 2008 the city has eliminated over 5,000 general fund positions. Meanwhile, cost-of-living pay increases have been eliminated for the next three years, and city employees will actually have to suffer a 10-percent deduction that will be put toward health care premiums, which were previously paid in full by city employers. While the unemployment rate is still much lower than it was six years ago, these budget cuts have contributed to the loss of middle class jobs in the region. As the largest employer in Los Angeles, the City must set an example for other employers. When people are working, they are paying taxes and spending money to help the local economy grow and prosper.
But a larger problem is the outright omission of looming issues that have been plaguing residents most in need. At the top of the list: there is no mention of replenishing the coffers that support affordable housing, at time when the housing issues has been solidly described as a statewide crisis. In Los Angeles, the Housing Trust Fund has no permanent source of dedicated revenue and receives no revenue from the General Fund. Meanwhile, low-income seniors often wait at least five years before subsidized housing becomes available to them, and landlords are now breaking rent control with more frequency, creating massive disparity between what folks earn, and what they require financially in order to live comfortably in the city. In South LA, we are seeing many residents simply move out of the city due to the rising cost of housing and lack of job opportunities.
The budget was balanced in large part due to a transfer from the city’s reserve fund, a one-time revenue source that will prove to be an unreliable source in the years to come. Ongoing budget deficits are projected for the next 4 years, due in part to the slow economic recovery, but also a result of city leaders relying on short-term solutions to long-term problems. Moving forward, it is clear that the City needs sustainable and reliable sources of ongoing revenue.
So what’s the plan for growing the budget down the road? There doesn’t seem to be one: The new budget also includes lowering the top business tax rate, which will eliminate another much-needed income source, and demonstrates little interest in funding, and growing, the public safety net—this year or in subsequent ones.
With this trajectory in mind, SCOPE is in the midst of a multi-year policy agenda driven by solutions from community members most impacted by budget cuts. Our voter engagement efforts, polls and research have helped us bring concrete priorities and proposals to City Hall in an effort to move us forward toward a more sustainable future. Read SCOPE’s campaign backgrounder here (Local Revenue Campaign-Budget Backgrounder-July 2014 Update), which highlights the political context, specific budget decisions, and our approach to finding solutions that improve the lives of all Angelenos.