Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday that Los Angeles will lay off more than 700 workers in the coming months and eliminate thousands of jobs as the nation's second-largest city struggles to close a $500 million budget gap.
In addition to reducing the public work force, the Democratic mayor warned the recession-battered city to prepare for cuts in road repairs, tree trimming and library hours.
"This is not a budget that reflects why I ran for office," the mayor said in his annual address to the City Council.
The speech began what is shaping up as a tense budget season at City Hall. The mayor's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 must be approved by the council, which has chafed at some of his proposals.
"We'll have to make some difficult choices and it won't be easy," City Council President Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
Working with the council, the mayor wants to slash roughly 3,500 positions through job cuts, early retirements and the elimination of vacant posts.
The mayor's office said there would be about 800 layoffs overall — 100 already have taken place. The cuts would be the deepest in the city work force since the 1970s.
Villaraigosa once promised to remake Los Angeles for the 21st century, but the second-term mayor now talks of limited resources and cuts that will be "severe ... painful."
The labor cuts would trim the work force paid from the city's general fund by about 14 percent, although many of those positions are now vacant. Overall, Los Angeles has 46,000 workers, but 21,000 are paid from separate sources such as at the Department of Water and Power, which collects utility payments.
As he has in the past, Villaraigosa suggested layoffs could be reduced, or avoided if employees took wage cuts or contributed more toward costly benefits. Union leaders have been cool to those ideas.
"We can avoid many of these cuts and we can find better ways of protecting our fiscal health," the mayor said. "We must all be willing to take cuts in our pay, increase our pension contribution and contribute more to our health care plans."
Governments across the nation are hurting after a national recession, but California has been especially hard hit. The unemployment rate in the state is 12.6 percent, a modern record for California. The Los Angeles economy has lost 65,000 jobs, the mayor said.
Los Angeles is also paying for its decision to hire workers during economic boom times while failing to recognize those days could end. The mayor said soaring pension costs now eat up $2 of every $10 the city spends from its general fund.
The recession "is tearing a gaping hole in our city budget and forcing us to take measures unimaginable a few short years ago," the mayor said.
Despite the grim outlook, the mayor said he would protect jobs at the Police Department, where the staff of about 10,000 is the largest in city history, while working to lure green jobs and investment from Washington, D.C. for transportation projects.
"There are sunnier days ahead," the mayor said.
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