Antonio's Busted Budget

Mayor hopes to fix deficit with a thousand small cuts

With one eye on his re-election campaign and the other on his soaring budget deficit, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa imposed a series of small cost-cutting measures on city departments Tuesday, according to a copy of his memo to other top city officials.

At the same time, he proposed going forward with a 3.9 percent cut in business taxes on Jan. 1, calling it an economic "stimulus" but gave no indication of backing down on tax hikes he seeks on the Nov. 4 ballot for gangs and trasnportation or the !3 percent water rate hike scheduled for Jan. 1

The mayor praised cost-cutting efforts already in place and insisted the city's money woes are not his fault. He blamed the national economy for revenue projected to come in $55 million below his budget forecast and rising fuel and other costs for why spending is running $55 million over budget.

The goal is to reduce the projected $110 million budget deficit this year and soften the blow of dealing a $400 shortfall next year. He'll have to face that problem between the March primary and May runoff election and with less than three weeks before the candidate filing deadline, Villaraigosa's strategy remains concerned about strong challengers like developer Rich Caruso or Controller Laura Chick jumping into the race.

The six-page  memorandum to department heads, the City Council and other top officials is entitled "FY 2008-2009 Belt Tightening Measures" and portrays his strategy as "prudent" and "conservative."

It contains seven directives and several other recommendations but does not call for  layoffs, rrenegotiation of employee pay raises up to 5.9 percent  or cuts in public services.

The list includes limits on hiring new staff and overtime, suspending purchases for furniture; equipment and computers; juggling infrastructure investment funds;  cutting back on mailings to the public, and hopes for $2 million from signage on the Convention Center and $38 million from selling the Mangrove site.

He called these steps "but a part of the extraordinary measures we must take to address our projected year-end deficit."

Besides going forward with the business tax cut,  Villaraigosa suggested a series of other actions that should be taken::

* Limiting fee waivers for special events
* A 10 percent reduction in water and power use in city buildings
* Voluntary furloughs by city employees
* Advertising revenue on the city's public access computers and at its wi-fi locations
* Reviewing existing contracts for possible savings
* Reducing fuel consumption and replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with higherf-mileage ones.

"Working together, creatively and wisely as we have, I know that we can all meet the current fiscal challenges,'' he concluded

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