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L.A. mayor rejects City Council request for salary money

March 8, 2010 |  7:24 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked council members last month to lend the city millions of dollars from their discretionary accounts to plug the $212-million budget gap. And he warned that he would veto any effort by members to transfer the flexible funds into their office salary accounts this year.

Villaraigosa followed through on that threat Monday. In a letter to the City Council, the mayor said he was vetoing a recent motion by Councilman Tony Cardenas directing $278,000 from his portion of the council’s Street Furniture Revenue Fund to his staff salaries and several projects in his district, including graffiti removal, sidewalk cleaning and a median irrigation system in Sun Valley.

City Council members have a series of special accounts at their disposal for pet projects in their districts. Money in the street furniture fund comes from advertising on city bus shelters and is apportioned among each of the 15 members for beautification and transit projects of their choosing in their districts.

“It is not intended to augment elected officials’ staff salary accounts,” Villaraigosa wrote in Monday’s letter. “And as I have repeatedly stated, given the severity of the financial crisis we face, uncommitted discretionary funds should be directed to the Reserve Fund.” The mayor added that he thought Cardenas’ request was a “misuse” of street furniture funds that was “fiscally imprudent.”

Cardenas could not be reached for comment. Although the City Charter gives the mayor power over certain monetary transfers, one of the City Council's top legislative analysts, Sharon Tso, said she is seeking advice from city lawyers on whether the mayor's veto is valid.

"Historically the mayor has never weighed in on any of these" transfers, Tso said. "I don’t think it's subject to the mayor’s veto."

The city’s administrative code describes a broad array of possible uses for the street furniture money, including consultant and staff costs for design or construction of transit-related beautification projects and public safety improvements.  

The City Council recently approved a number of other members’ requests for transfers from their discretionary accounts to council members’ staff salary accounts, including a $150,000 transfer to Bill Rosendahl’s office, $95,000 to Herb Wesson’s and $95,000 to Jan Perry’s.

Those three salary transfers were approved by the City Council before the mayor made his veto threat in a Feb. 12 letter. Villaraigosa did not try to block them because they were approved before his directive, according to an aide. They were deemed approved without his signature between Feb. 16 and Feb. 23.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall


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