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Beutner criticizes L.A. council for not moving quickly to erase $404-million budget deficit [Updated]

March 10, 2011 |  3:07 pm

Using some of his harshest words yet, a top aide to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accused the City Council of lacking a strategy for eliminating a $404-million shortfall.

First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, who is weighing a possible run for mayor in 2013, told an audience at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce that private businesses would not allow themselves to have such a large shortfall and no solution so soon before a decision is needed.

“We’ve just reelected half the City Council, and I’ve not heard one of them propose a solution to a $400 million problem that’s 60 days away,” he said.

Voters on Tuesday reelected council members Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge, Tony Cardenas, Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar. Ballots remained to be counted in the race involving Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who earned just slightly more than 50% on election night, according to unofficial results.

[Updated at 3:45 p.m.: Parks, who heads the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, disagreed with Beutner’s assessment, saying he talked during much of his reelection campaign about the need to reduce the size of the city workforce. The council already took 4,000 positions out of the general fund budget -- which pays for basic services -- by adopting layoffs, transfers and an early retirement program, he said.

The council also sought to rein in retirement costs by putting on Tuesday’s ballot a measure to trim pensions of newly hired police officers and firefighters. Beutner should have done the same during his eight months running the Department of Water and Power, Parks said.

“We were hopeful as interim general manager of Water and Power that he would have taken a role in cutting down the substantial … [DWP] pensions, but that didn’t occur,” he added.]

If he runs for mayor, Beutner could face two council members -- Jan  Perry and Eric Garcetti -- as well as a former council member, City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Beutner, a former investment banker whom Villaraigosa appointed to help attract businesses to the city, has repeatedly promised to make a decision on his candidacy by the end of the month. But his comments, both in his speech and in questions afterward, already sounded like well-honed campaign rhetoric.

The Pacific Palisades resident repeatedly described Los Angeles as being at a crossroads, with 13% unemployment and only half of its high school students graduating--a statistic he described as a “damning indictment” of the school system.

Beutner suggested that the council should have gotten out of the business of operating city parking garages--something he said the private sector could do better. The council rejected such a move last month.

And he waded into the debate over dramatically rising retirement costs, saying that the city should make good on its commitments to its existing workforce. “We made promises. People are owed their pensions,” he said.

Beutner’s most pointed comments focused on the budget gap, which must be decided in the next three months. Although Villaraigosa will propose his budget in April, a wide-ranging plan for making cuts is expected from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana before then.

As it tackles that shortfall, the city should create a “new paradigm” with its labor unions by working collaboratively with them, Beutner said. “They’ve got ideas. They’ve got ways to close that gap,” he said.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner at City Hall on Feb. 17, 2011. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times