Well, don't I feel foolish. Just three days ago I reluctantly but dutifully voted for Measure A, the proposed half-cent sales tax hike that was supposed to pare down the city's mountainous deficit (exact number TBD). Mayor Villaraigosa supported the plan, despite the City Council failing to adopt other cost-cutting measures he was seeking. Several city officials, most notably Police Chief Charlie Beck, warned that without the tax increase serious cutbacks were looming - specifically, the loss of 500 cops. Just in case you weren't sufficiently warned, the proposal was officially titled the "neighborhood public safety and vital city services funding and accountability measure." No matter - the tax hike went down handily. Then two days later the mayor was asked about the shortfall. From the LAT:
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said stronger revenues and an improving economy could cut this year's financial gap by more than half. Villaraigosa, who endorsed the plan to take the sales tax from 9% to 9.5%, said Thursday that he now expects a brighter financial outlook to take a looming deficit from $216 million to a much lower number, possibly less than $100 million, for the fiscal year that starts July 1. "The economy's getting better," he said. "So I don't expect that we're going to have draconian cuts."
Villaraigosa apparently found religion after meeting with several L.A. economists last week - as in before the election. No word on why he conveniently kept the optimistic news to himself. But of course the news isn't all that optimistic, no matter what he was told. Yes, the economy is improving and yes it's likely to bring down the deficit. But it won't close the deficit - and after 2013-2014, there's the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that. This is why structural deficits are so insidious - you can't just hope they'll go away, not as long as city workers keep demanding those pesky pension and health care packages - and as long as the city remains a mostly unfriendly place to do business. But there's another part of this story, the real deception, that no one wants to talk about. It involves the cuts that have already happened. All those lost employees and services and programs? They're never coming back. In their place is more borrowing, maintenance deferral, and desperately moving pockets of available cash from department to department. That's why City Hall is in such chaos, despite the mayor's denials. "Unless there are changes, the city is going to be so unlivable that people are going to have to leave," Steve Soboroff told me last year. "The city has to start setting priorities that involve quality-of-life issues." Good luck with that.