The Los Angeles City budget deficit magically shrunk by more than half after the voters turned down a half-cent sales tax increase in Tuesday’s election. At least, that is what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the press when asked how the city would deal with the budget shortfall after the voters’ rejection of the $200 million tax measure.
Turns out the deficit may be less than $100 million instead of the $216 million deficit voters were told the city was facing prior to the vote. The mayor said the lower deficit was due to an improving economy.
However, as Steve Lopez accurately points out in his Los Angeles Times column the mayor’s pronouncement a couple of days after the election will add to the cynicism of voters.
Lopez reports that the mayor was told about the improving economy in a meeting with economists before the election. That word never got to the voters from the city’s leaders pushing the tax.
Voters naturally will ask: Was the tax increase about closing the deficit and saving public safety jobs or just giving the politicians downtown more taxpayer money to spend?
Given this new information, I think you know the answer.
It’s not that word of a smaller deficit wasn’t available before the election. As Lopez notes, and as was repeated on Fox & Hounds a month ago, former Villaraigosa budget aide and city council candidate, Matt Szabo, said the budget shortfall was overstated by about half. Unfortunately, Szabo did not make the runoff for the council seat. Too bad. Los Angeles could use more straight-shooters on the council.
But none of the city’s top officials confirmed this bit of important news. It sure looks like the city leaders knew the situation was not so bad while they were pleading for more money to keep cops on the street.
While the city finances are far from being healthy, how can city voters trust what they are being told and what needs to be done after the mayor’s soon-after-the-election revelation?