As he promised, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released his proposed budget today. In true blog fashion, we offer you an early but sketchy summary based on a quick scan of what seem to be the highlights of the 399 page budget and its supporting documentation.
In many ways, the budget is designed to offer new services that benefit everyone while gleaning revenues from those most able to afford it. The new items in the budget reflect many of those the Mayor discussed in his "State of the City" address on Tuesday: funding for transit systems, road repair, parks, after school programs, and cops. Lots of cops. The allocation for increasing the number of police on the street is a huge chunk of the budget growth.
Where is the money supposed to come from? (Find out after the jump).
- Increased property tax revenue: City Controller Laura Chick includes a letter in the budget that says that she talked to some economists and they predicted that real estate prices wouldn't grow as fast as they have been. Therefore, the budget includes projections for a modest increase in overall property values and therefore overall property tax revenues. It does not project the bubble bursting, so if that happened (as some of us selfishly wish it would), it would leave a big hole in the city budget. It's not clear to us yet whether the projected revenues include a tax increase. Those of us who can't afford a house in this market are perfectly willing to believe that anyone who can buy one can go ahead and pay the taxes on it if there are new ones -- or that, if they can't, maybe housing prices will finally go down!.
- Increased sales tax revenue: The budget suggests that sales taxes were temporarily lowered to help the economy recover (honestly, we didn't notice) and they'll go back up. Also, according to a study cited in the budget, sales have gone up more in outlying areas than in the city proper, suggesting that some people who live in or visit LA travel outside the city to buy things they want. Therefore, some sort of strategy will encourage Angelenos to spend their money within the city, although it's unclear to us whether there's any budget for incentives to build or renovate new shopping districts. At least, though, you have some control over how much you spend and therfore how much you get taxed.
- Increased fees for trash collection, as floated a few weeks ago. Again, applies to property owners.
Increased fees for parking citations. The cost of a ticket and the late fee would each go up $5. So that's $50 for a parking ticket. We have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it's a pretty fair source of revenue, because through diligence you can generally avoid getting parking tickets and therefore it's something of a laziness tax. On the other hand, the huge projected revenues from parking fines give the city no incentive whatsoever to improve the parking conditions, thus decreasing the quality of life for those of us living (or trying to shop -- see above) in dense urban neighborhoods.All in all, it seems like the budget fits the city as we know it pretty well. Everyone agrees that the schools could work better, that the air could be cleaner, that we want to be safe, and it seems like the city is trying to make things happen without burdening people too much. Still, it does depend on optimism about how and where people spend their money on housing and purchases. There may be other quibbles from people who spend more time poring over it -- next, that's the City Council's job.
Photo of LA's BEST after school program from their site.