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Primer to Today's Budget Council Meeting, How it Affects You & Why You Should Care

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A packed council chambers during Monday's budget hearing | Photo by Alex Thompson/Westside Bikeside

A packed council chambers during Monday's budget hearing | Photo by Alex Thompson/Westside Bikeside
There's nothing sexy about a city government's budget, no matter how you color it. The city of Los Angeles is facing so much red ink--currently $208 million--it's going to start bleeding out onto the streets and into your daily life. And that's exactly why you should know what's going on. If pot holes annoy you, get ready for more of them. If slow police response times anger you, you might be waiting even longer in the near future. City services demand money and well, that money isn't there.

Los Angeles faced a $400 million budget shortfall at the beginning of this fiscal year--July 2009 to June 2010--and did a number of things to patch it up like furloughs and letting 2,400 employees retire early. It worked, getting the deficit down to $100 million, but with the economy in the tanker, tax revenues were down and the city is back to $208 million in the hole. By the next fiscal year in July 2010 hits, we're looking at a $400 million shortfall. It's an uphill battle, but it's law that the City Council and Mayor make sure Los Angeles is solvent.

Today the full City Council will discuss and possibly make some very tough decisions. Time is of the essence and quick fixes are needed and when you have to make hasty decisions, controversy ensues. Patching up the budget means laying off 1,000 or so employees (that's when your potholes don't get filled, less police are on the street thing comes into play) and eliminating departments. Here's a list of just some of the hot button items being discussed today, which you can monitor on Channel 35, on the web or via your phone (call 213-621-CITY).

  • 1,000 Layoffs: It only solves one-third of the current problem, but it's a significant chunk. The proposed cuts are spread across the city, save for the Mayor's and City Council offices. Although one plan does not include police and fire, one that will be presented today will. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vows to keep police levels the same.
  • Cultural Affairs: The proposal to solve the city's budget problems includes stopping grants to cultural organizations that produce theatre, educational events, festivals and more. The money comes from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which is accumulated when people stay at hotels. Arts advocates say it's a cycle--that the grant money fuels jobs, which fuels attracts and events, which fuels tourism, which fuels the taxes, which fund the grants.
  • Environmental Affairs and Disability: These two independent departments are proposed to be eliminated. However, that doesn't mean the duties or all of the staff will go away. The elimination consolidates the positions under different departments, therefore reducing redundancies in support staff. It's fiscally smart, but detractors worry about the services worsening once placed into a larger department.
  • Human Relations Department: Although this department is made up of a number of departments that were consolidated last year in an effort to save money and is considered a model of how to run a department efficiently, it's being proposed to be cut outright. Functions of the department include domestic violence, gay, lesbian and transgender sensitivity training for the LAPD, neighborhood dispute resolutions and various other services.
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That's just the tip of the iceberg and it's expected to be a long and heated meeting today. In the end, the city's job is to provide core services and what they must, per the city charter (that's basically the city constitution). Here's our coverage on issues earlier this week:

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