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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Does City Of Bell Manage Its Budget Better than L.A.?

CAPITOL OFFENSES Brendan Huffman After reading the commendable series of articles in the Los Angeles Times about corruption in the City of Bell, one cannot resist temptations to make comparisons with the City of Los Angeles. No, I am not suggesting L.A. city officeholders are corrupt, although the obscene amounts of money involved with re-electing incumbents sometimes generates such sentiments from their critics. Rather, I’m interested in how they compare when it comes to running a city, beginning with fiscal management. The City of Los Angeles continues to struggle with its $485 million budget deficit. The City of Bell reportedly has a budget surplus of $22.7 million. So, despite all the shenanigans pulled by Bell’s self-serving city councilmembers, they somehow managed to end their fiscal year with a $22.7 million budget surplus. Maybe there’s something to be said for their $96,000 salaries for the part-time job, on top of their generous pensions and commission assignments that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more. While Bell’s city councilmembers might be better fiscal managers, let’s not start courting them for L.A.’s city council. No, these self-serving yahoos took advantage of a low-income, under-educated population, many of whom are non-English speakers, and sneaked through a number of “reforms” and tax hikes used to enhance the salaries of the elected officials and their cronies. None of us should be surprised to learn down the road that the $22.7 million budget surplus wasn’t a surplus at all. Or, perhaps they’re using the same fiscal analysts that DWP used to testify before the L.A. City Council earlier this year that it could not transfer $73 million to the city’s general fund unless a rate hike was approved. Critics of L.A. City Hall will point to last year’s Measure B solar initiative that was written to benefit somebody’s cronies but went down to a narrow defeat, largely because enough voters with access to computers were able to learn about this poorly-written initiative and e-mail concerns to their neighbors. Many Bell residents aren’t so lucky. Ethics reform trick In 2006, a majority of L.A. voters were tricked into voting for the Measure R “ethics reform” initiative aimed at reigning in unregistered lobbyists, when in fact it extended term limits for city councilmembers. Shortly thereafter, the city council undid most of the new rules regulating lobbyists. But the extra term provision stuck. Hopefully, the Times will assign reporters to highlight political abuses in other cities in Southeast L.A., as I suspect Bell is not the only culprit. The City of Cudahy has endured several recalls of elected officials, who, like Bell officials, used their offices to leverage city contracts to unqualified associates. In nearby Maywood, city councilmembers eliminated city services and asked neighboring cities to take some of them over. All this, while they’re suing LAUSD over a school site to relieve overcrowding in Maywood. Back to L.A., especially here in the Valley, it’s a favorite pastime to complain and blame everything on City Hall. Really? Haven’t Valley voters elected nearly half the city council and allowed them to prioritize items like boycotting Arizona-based businesses such as Super Shuttle, which, it turned out, had moved its headquarters out of Arizona several years ago. In Bell, residents filled council chambers last week and demanded resignations. And that is for a city with a budget surplus! (At least what appears to be a budget surplus). Dire predictions If no steps are taken in L.A., the city’s forecast for its pension and health care costs is another $2.5 billion, which will fall on the shoulders of taxpayers and, presumably, the jobs of hundreds of city employees. Will that be enough to get more than a few gadflies to City Hall and threaten recalls? Probably not, but there is a group forming, under the spirited urging of former Daily News editor Ron Kaye, seeking to challenge all incumbents up for re-election next year. I am not optimistic they’ll succeed in defeating any incumbents, as the special interest money spent on their behalf is too much to overcome. Nonetheless, I hope they’ll be successful in raising the incumbents’ awareness of the real issues that threaten both our city’s solvency and livability. Of course, our budget challenges could be mitigated if the city council began to act on a three-year-old audit revealing that the city annually fails to collect on $500 million worth of debts to the city. And, we’ve said it before, so we’ll say it again. Repeat after me: tax revenues to the city will increase when our business climate improves. The problem is that, aside from recent steps to improve the business climate for film and commercial shoots in the city, nobody seems to be helping businesses that are not in the entertainment sector. Zones in jeopardy Oh sure, enterprise zones have been expanded recently, but that victory could be short lived as lawmakers are moving on legislation in Sacramento that would essentially eliminate the state’s entire enterprise zone program. What would really help to attract economic growth is meaningful cuts to L.A.’s gross receipts tax and using our industrial zones for industry. Not housing or schools, but industry. You know, the kind of industry where jobs get created and taxes get generated. Instead, too many of our city councilmembers allow themselves to get distracted with issues such as declawing of cats and which washed- up celebrity to honor with a special day, none of which help us address the budget deficit and pension liabilities. Sadly, Bell voters have learned the hard way that we get the kind of government we deserve. Let’s hope that L.A. voters and officeholders avoid having to learn that lesson the hard way, too. Brendan Huffman is a Valley-based public policy consultant and the co-host of “Off The Presses,” a public affairs program streamed live on LATalk Radio.com every Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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