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Villaraigosa alters course, supports council faction that seeks to avoid layoffs

May 17, 2010 |  5:26 pm
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa threw a curve ball into the City Council’s budget deliberations Monday afternoon, siding with a faction that opposes many of his proposals for cutting libraries, child-care centers and other municipal services.

Six hours into the session, Villaraigosa issued a letter saying he backed efforts by council members Herb Wesson, Paul Koretz and Jose Huizar to avoid many of the cuts that he had proposed -– at least for now. Instead, the city should continue negotiating with its public employee unions to find concessions, he said.

“As I said in the State of the City address, we can do better than the budget I originally proposed -– but we cannot do it without significant, structural cost-saving measures from our labor partners,” Villaraigosa said in a statement handed out in the council chamber by his spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton.

The letter arrived hours before the council was expected to vote on a plan to eliminate 761 jobs -– the figure contained in Villaraigosa’s financial plan.

The mayor’s request to hold off on those cuts baffled Councilman Greig Smith, who voted last week to eliminate the positions. Smith warned that Wesson’s budget proposal relies on unrealistic estimates and said the council should move ahead with the job cuts.

“The mayor said just a month ago, ‘If you folks don’t lay off all these people, I’m going to close the city down two days a week,’ ” he said. “So I can’t understand what mayor we’re talking to sometimes. One day he says, ‘Let’s do it.’ The next day he says, ‘Let’s not do it.’”

Added Councilwoman Jan Perry: “Why would you reverse yourself on your own budget?”
Wesson called last week for a budget that includes no layoffs or furloughs. As part of his alternative budget plan, Wesson is seeking $63 million in employee concessions, more early retirement for workers and increased fees for dog licenses, ambulances and other services.
 
Some figures in Wesson’s budget have been criticized as overly optimistic, such as a plan to get $2.4 million by increasing the amount charged for dog and cat licenses.

By comparison, a proposal from Council President Eric Garcetti would move ahead with Villaraigosa’s plan for cutting jobs starting July 1. Those reductions could be abandoned, however, if the unions offer ways of closing the budget gap.

Union leaders, who have been trying to find eight votes for Wesson’s plan, greeted the mayor’s letter warmly.

“The mayor’s letter allows us to continue to talk,” said Victor Gordo, an attorney for the Coalition of L.A. City Unions.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
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