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Pay cuts for Los Angeles city employees not the answer to budget deficit

By Daniel Feeney

Feb. 21, 2010 10:18 p.m.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently announced that city employees will soon be facing pay cuts, and thousands of city jobs could be cut. Los Angeles is facing budget constraints that threaten important city services that are essential to the city’s residents.

With a budget shortfall of $212 million, the mayor has to take action to keep as many of the city’s services available, but the major brunt of the shortfall should not be placed upon the backs of the important city workers who provide us with the day-to-day services that keep our city in motion.

Police officers, firefighters and port employees are all city employees whose salaries are at the whim of Los Angeles’ financial state. By the end of the year, many of these employees, who keep our economy alive and city safe, could lose income or their jobs.

Cutting pay and jobs is an answer that is neither fair nor an adequate solution. Before we decide to cut salaries, we have to first think of making a budget that is sustainable in the long term, not just for a single situation.

When it comes to supporting budget cuts I am among the first to say that we have to be careful with our money and cut the excess to keep our costs in check. But before we use cuts to breach the deficit, we have to consider the ramifications of decreased salaries and fewer employees in the city, and the effect on the employees involved.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the city had planned to employ 51,000 people for the next fiscal year, 9,963 police officers and 3,588 firefighters. With so many employees and such a wide scope of important tasks, cutting salaries and jobs means that the potential for harm is great.

There were 30,526 violent crimes in Los Angeles in 2006, according to FBI crime statistics. Although there are no current plans to cut the number of police officers, by cutting their salaries we are penalizing the key people who have been helping to keep our city safe and criminals off the street.

Citywide unions and groups have, of course, come out against the cuts, claiming that these pay reductions and cuts will reduce the amount of services provided by the city.

While these groups obviously have a very vested interest in their own pay, we do have to take into consideration the fact that fewer jobs means fewer services; and quite possibly that less pay means less of an incentive to provide quality services.

Los Angeles must understand that city employees are public servants, and not only do they deserve just compensation, they need it. If we want to get and retain quality employees, quality compensation is a must.

While we know that police officers and firefighters are important to the safety of the city, other Los Angeles employees are important to the economic activity of the entire western United States.

The Port of Los Angeles, for instance, receives $370 million dollars in yearly revenue, while 170 million metric tons of goods go through the port each year. If we are to cut these and other L.A. city employees’ salaries, we have to be willing to accept the possible major ramifications of cuts to their jobs and decreases in the quality of service that they provide.

If it is decided that we have to cut salaries because they are too high, then it may be necessary to have limited decreases in pay. But, rather than decreasing salaries for those who provide services because they are the most visible expense, we need to take an honest look at why we have been having budget issues and make long-term changes that will reduce the shortfall.

Changes to reduce the deficit, unfortunately, could mean doing something like increasing certain taxes, or decreasing spending on some of the expensive transportation measures.

But, if we are to prevent cuts to salaries made in haste in order to quickly remedy a long-term problem, then some long-term solution must be proposed ““ no immediate fixes.

While increasing the scope of the subway system is useful, the amount of money that will have to go into the upgrades could be used instead to ensure that we have enough adequately compensated employees.

Long-term construction projects are important for the city’s long-term health, but they cannot be prioritized above the pay of our city’s employees.

We have proven, as students, that we love to advocate against cuts to our university education and the quality of services we receive as students.

While we may think of ourselves as students first and citizens of Los Angeles second, we cannot forget that the city provides all of us with services essential to everyday life that help out all of Los Angeles. As students, although it is our primary concern to advocate for our own UCLA community and education, we cannot forget that we are also citizens of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles needs to have a balanced budget in order to be able to thrive. Cuts will be necessary to ensure that Los Angeles thrives, but unfortunately lowering the salaries of employees does not seem to be a solution that will ensure a long-term thriving city.

E-mail Feeney at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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Daniel Feeney
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