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Villaraigosa speech focuses on transit issues, not L.A. budget woes

April 18, 2012 |  6:05 pm

Even as city workers protested proposed layoffs outside of his speech, Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa avoided talk of layoffs during his annual State of the City address Wednesday, choosing instead to cheerlead a proposed ballot measure that he said would allow the region to rapidly expand its transit system.

The mayor devoted only five paragraphs in his seven-page speech to his proposed budget, which is due to be released Friday. He has previously said the budget will include “a large number of layoffs.”

Villaraigosa didn’t mention his proposed cuts in the speech, nor did he mention two tax increases that his top budget official has said will be necessary to avoid hurting public safety.

Union leaders are locked in a battle with a five-member city bargaining committee that recently asked them to give up raises scheduled for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They have refused to reopen contract talks, saying their members, who in recent years have agreed to help fund pension reform and a money-saving early retirement program in exchange for the pay raises, have given enough.

Outside of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where Villaraigosa spoke to a crowd of several hundred elected officials and community members, workers held picket signs and handed out postcards attacking the mayor for spending what they said was too much time traveling and not enough time managing the city. “Greetings from Los Angeles,” the postcards read.

The mayor has made frequent trips to Washington to lobby for transportation funds. He is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and this summer will chair the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

In his speech, Villaraigosa said the employee concessions helped save hundreds of millions of dollars, but more pension reform was necessary.

“We must continue to chart a more sustainable path forward,” he said. He said he plans to ask workers to share in the increased cost of their health benefits. “By working in partnership with the City Council, I am confident that we will let common sense serve the common good.”

He also did not mention that he hopes to raise the retirement age for newly hired city workers.

Instead, he claimed several accomplishments, including rising test scores in charter schools, low crime rates and improved community relations at the Los Angeles Police Department two decades after the L.A. riots. “The Los Angeles of 2012 is a better city,” he said. “Somewhere in the heavens, Tom Bradley is smiling.”

He pledged $2.5 million in funding to create an economic development nonprofit that would replace the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency and lead to more jobs and business and touted the city’s success in attracting new businesses to the city, including Google, two electric car manufacturers, and the headquarters of Lucky Jeans and the architecture firm Gensler.

“These firms could have gone anywhere,” he said. “They had many suitors.” He said they chose Los Angeles because the city is creating the “economic ecosystem” where business can thrive. He said he has streamlined the building process and has suspended the business tax for new businesses during the first three years they are here.

But the emphasis of his speech, titled “Building Our Future Today,” was transportation.

Villaraigosa has pushed a plan to get the federal government to lend Los Angeles billions of dollars so officials can complete 30 years of transportation projects in 10 years. But that effort has been stalled by Republicans in Congress.

With the federal money in doubt, Villaraigosa called for the open-ended extension of Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008 that runs until 2039. He said it would allow the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to raise billions of dollars for quicker construction of a subway extension to the Westside, a downtown light-rail connection and a host of other projects.

“Regardless of what Washington does, we are not going to wait another day,” Villaraigosa said.


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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall