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LA Mayor's Budget Proposal To Include Furloughs and 'Pain' For Many City Departments

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers the 2020 State of the City speech. (Screenshot of livestream)
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The coronavirus outbreak is devastating local government budgets. Revenue has plummeted because of the shelter-at-home order. Economic activity funds a big part of the city's budget through taxes, and a ton of that is on ice right now.

In Los Angeles, city officials now face stark choices about which programs to keep whole and which to cut.

Mayor Eric Garcetti's budget proposal will be released at 1 p.m. today.

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Garcetti used his State of the City address Sunday evening to warn that his budget would be "a document of our pain."

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He likened this to 9/11, when LAX closed for a couple of days and passenger traffic was down by a third that month in 2001. It took 10 years to recover, Garcetti said.

"Today, airport passenger traffic is down 95 percent," he added. "From a fiscal perspective, this is the worst it's ever been."

Last week City Controller Ron Galperin put the revenue writing on the wall: the city is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls.

To find those savings, Garcetti already instituted a hiring freeze, but said he has to go further: borrowing from the rainy day fund; cutting many department budgets; and furloughing thousands of civilian city workers, essentially reducing their pay by 10 percent.

The mayor acknowledged that will be hard on people who rely on city services, and tough for workers who will see smaller paychecks. He said he'll try to reduce those furlough days as soon as possible. One of the ways to do that would be a big check from Washington.

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Garcetti appealed again to the White House and Congress to appropriate more funding for local governments, saying they should "help bail out America's cities, just as you bailed out the banks." He echoed organizations representing city and county leaders that have requested more financial help from the federal government. "If you want to reopen America, America's cities are where this nation begins."

But for now, Garcetti has to work with what he's got -- and he said that means a belt-tightening budget that will reduce spending on community programs, parks and the environment.

Some core departments will be spared. Garcetti promised to "draw a red line" around community safety, clean streets, housing, and meals programs for children and seniors.

The mayor tried to soften the news of austerity measures by presenting a vision of what recovery could look like. "The real question is how we will come back," Garcetti said, arguing this process should be more broad-based than what transpired after the Great Recession. He said attention should be given to inequities in our economy that leave many people vulnerable -- without housing or healthcare.

Garcetti talked about a proposed coalition of doctors, local governments, businesses, and health agencies dubbed the "CARES Corps," which would theoretically help coordinate the steps needed to get the economy moving again: testing; monitoring; tracking and isolating new coronavirus cases; and researching therapeutics and a vaccine.

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And Garcetti called on the federal government to make sweeping, structural changes as part of the recovery effort, like backing an eviction moratorium, making college tuition-free, and passing an infrastructure package.

These are big, bold plans popular with the left wing of the Democratic Party that helped win California for Bernie Sanders. But they aren't likely to be on the agenda for the Trump administration or a Republican Senate anytime soon.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The mayor's proposal is just that -- a suggestion based on requests from city departments and the chief executive's policy priorities. The city council takes that document and works its way through, making amendments based on the Budget Committee's public hearings, city administrative officer (CAO) analysis and councilmembers' priorities.

The city charter says the council must pass its budget no later than June 1. The mayor then has five working days to send it back to them with a veto, or tweak the council's budget using a line-item veto. But the council also has five days to override any veto with a two-thirds vote.

And voila: an adopted budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Mayor Garcetti's 2020-21 proposed budget is expected to be released at 1 PM. This story will be updated.