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Yaroslavsky calls mayoral candidates' budget comments 'oblivious'

February 11, 2013 | 11:33 am

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Since deciding last August that he would not run for mayor of Los Angeles, county Supervisor  Zev Yaroslavsky has for the most part remained quietly on the sidelines while eight candidates fight it out for the city’s top job.

But the veteran Los Angeles politician weighed in forcefully in an interview with The Times, criticizing the field of would-be mayors for failing to address the city’s ongoing fiscal crisis.

Yaroslavsky particularly took aim at the proposal by Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel to gradually eliminate the city’s gross receipts tax on businesses, saying that they have presented no realistic alternative to replace the roughly $430 million annually that the tax brings in.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

Garcetti and Greuel claim that the tax reduction will attract businesses and that other taxes will therefore rise, more than making up for the lost business taxes and also bringing badly needed jobs to the city. That claim has been backed by one USC economist but rejected by the city’s own budget experts and other outside analysts.

Yaroslavsky, who gained a reputation as a budget hawk since his days chairing the finance committee when he sat on the L.A. City Council, said the loss of the business tax would widen a deficit that already stands at about $220 million.

When Greuel upped the ante last week with a proposal to increase the Police Department from 10,000 to 12,000 officers, that also got Yaroslavsky’s attention. Yaroslavsky projected the cost of the expansion at roughly $300 million for salaries, pensions and benefits alone. Combining that figure with lost gross receipts revenue and the current deficit, he said: “That takes the deficit to $1 billion....  Where is the revenue going to come from? How do you pay for all of this?”

“It’s an arithmetic problem, to quote Bill Clinton, and the arithmetic does not add up,” Yaroslavsky said.

The long-time public official, who first won a seat on the City Council in 1975, called Greuel, Garcetti and City Councilwoman Jan Perry — the leading candidates for mayor — “highly competent figures.”

“They are smart and they care about the city,” Yaroslavsky added. “But right now they seem more focused on the election. I understand that. But I think that being totally oblivious, or giving the impression they are totally oblivious, to the fiscal risks the city faces -- that also comes with some political risks.”

Yaroslavsky, 64, called for an end to “sound bites and platitudes and promises.” He added: “There should be some discussion that confirms one of these people who wants to be mayor gets it; that the first order of business when they come into office is what they are going to do to get spending in line with revenues.”

Despite his critique, Yaroslavsky said he had no regrets that he gave up his own chance of becoming mayor, an office he eyed for more than two decades.

“No, no, no,” Yaroslavsky said, saying he looks forward to life after he is termed out as a supervisor, in late 2014. “I confirm that every day, or as often as I can, when I talk to my granddaughter on the phone.”


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Photo: Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times