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Villaraigosa goes on TV, radio to explain his shutdown proposal

April 7, 2010 | 11:27 am
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday said he doesn’t expect his call to shut down nonessential city agencies two days a week, if enacted, would continue more than three months.

“We don’t expect that we would be closing City Hall, if you will, two days a week beyond July," the mayor said during a morning interview on CNN.

Still, he said, Los Angeles residents should expect to see significant cuts to services and the city’s workforce as he and the City Council struggle to close a $212-million budget deficit, predicted to double next year.

He blamed the shortfall on a recession-fed decline in tax revenue and the city’s expanding payroll costs, and again called on city employees to accept a 15% pay cut.

“There’s no scenario where we don’t have to trim our services and the cost of our payroll," Villaraigosa told CNN’s chief business correspondent Ali Velshi.

Some city officials raised doubts about Villaraigosa's ability to order such a sweeping shutdown. Gerry Miller, the council’s legislative analyst, said the mayor "does not have the unilateral authority to do that" under the city charter.
Villaraigosa has been taking his budget message to the airwaves all day, appearing on national cable news shows and local radio programs.

The media blitz comes amid his escalating political feud with the Council, which last week rejected a Villaraigosa-backed hike in electric bills. In response, the Department of Water and Power is refusing to transfer $73.5 million to the city’s decimated general fund. Utility executives said that without a rate hike, which they said is necessary to cover the fluctuating cost of coal and the mayor’s renewable agenda, the DWP cannot afford to make the payment.

Without the money, City Controller Wendy Greuel has warned that the city could run out of cash within weeks.

Villaraigosa called Tuesday for non-essential services, such as libraries, parks and senior centers, to be shut down twice a week, saying the loss of $73.5 million had forced his hand.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents roughly 22,000 city workers, questioned whether the mayor has the authority to carry out the plan and complained that its members -- and the public -- had become "collateral damage" in a political fight over electric rates. Coalition representatives said their contract prohibits the city from laying off or furloughing members though the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

-- Phil Willon at Los Angeles City Hall