Monday, March 1, 2010

Rebuttal of Eric Garcetti’s Cutback/Layoff Arguments

By Dick Platkin*

Councilperson Eric Garcetti has given four reasons for supporting cutbacks in municipal services and layoffs of Los Angeles city employees to balance the city’s budget. His reasons do not hold up to a careful analysis.

Garcetti,
“The City's work force has expanded by 4000 people since 1999.”
This is misleading for several reasons. First, compared to the Tom Bradley era, the city's work force substantially declined under Mayor Riordan. For example, under Mayor Tom Bradley the Department of City Planning’s staffing levels peaked at about 350 employees in 1987, when LA had 3.2 million people. By the end of the 1990's, under Mayor Richard Riordan, the number of employees had dipped to about 250 even though LA’s population had grown by about 500,000 during that decade.

Second, the subsequent hiring increase did not evenly apply to all city departments. For example, the LAPD has continued to grow through every Mayoral administration from Riordan onward. City Planning, like the other non-LAPD departments, did modestly grow, but never returned to its 1980 levels. Under the new Director of Planning, Gail Goldberg, staff levels nearly reached 300 people in 2009, but by the time the ERIP golden handshake, furloughs, and layoffs fully kick in, the staffing level will be closer to 220 full time positions. This is about 170 positions lower than the Bradley years, when Los Angeles had nearly 1,000,000 few residents.

2. Garcetti,
“Pension and pay has risen "a little" more than inflation.”
This is also misleading because the Federal government’s measures of inflation have long ago been rigged to minimize real inflation, such as the exclusion of food and fuel items. Besides, if increases in employee deductions are factored in, especially for insurance premiums and deductibles, there has been no increase in city employee compensation at all. As for indexing salaries to inflation -- what is called a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) -- in most MOU negotiations the city’s officials have rejected this option while the city’s unions have proposed it.

3. Garcetti,
“The economy has fallen.”
Again this is selective. The falling economy has not impaired the increased funding and staffing levels for the LAPD. It has not stopped the City Council from continuing grants, cheap loans, and fee waivers for large real estate projects, such as those of CIM, Grand Avenue, and AEG. Furthermore, the falling economy has not stopped the construction of large real estate projects, electronic billboards, supergraphics, and McMansions throughout Los Angeles. Finally, the recession has not been a barrier to truly enormous government funding for bank bailouts, wars, and other military expenditures. Bottom line, the poverty argument is only invoked when it comes to the 20 percent of the city budget which is not for police and fire.

Furthermore, the role of government as a countervailing economic force during recessions and depressions is as valid in the 21st Century as it was in the 1930s!

4. Garcetti,
“The increase in the amount the City has had to contribute to the employee pension systems is due to investment losses the pension funds have recently sustained.”
This is true but also misleading, since it ignores the city's decision (unlike other public sector entities, most notably the UC's) to not contribute to employees’ deferred compensation retirement accounts and not include city employees in Social Security. Furthermore, the city has long ago had a policy of ageism against older employees, in which the pension system promotes retirement at age 60, and in which most city departments then encourage employees reaching their 60's to retire by denying most promotions and reducing responsibility, independent of capability.

* Dick Platkin is a city planning consultant who formerly worked for LA City Planning. He welcomes comments on this article and can be reached at rhplatkin@yahoo.com.

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