Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city’s top financial experts were stunned last fall when a steep drop in tax revenue punched a hole in the city budget — forcing them to propose an array of fee hikes and cuts in public services. But the city’s $406-million budget shortfall is also a product of two pivotal policy choices made by Villaraigosa since taking office in 2005: adding 1,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department and hiking the pay of unionized city workers, reports the city’s Times.
On paper, paying for the new officers looks easy. If the City Council approves the mayor’s budget, annual trash fees will have been raised by more than $140 million since 2006. But hiring so many new officers is much trickier when home sales are flat, sales taxes are down and city employee pay raises have cost nearly $90 million extra with each successive year. To continue the LAPD expansion in the midst of an economic downturn, Villaraigosa has called for reductions in library hours and supplies, animal shelter hours, park rangers and maintenance, summer recreation workers and arts programs. With another grim year expected in 2009-10, the budget woes pose a major question for the mayor: Even if he reaches his goal of 1,000 new officers, can that rapid buildup be sustained?