The City of Los Angeles is on the hook for an estimated $10 billion to repair its fractured infrastructure. This includes not only the City’s 6,500 miles of streets and 10,750 miles of sidewalks, but its curbs and corner access ramps, its more than 400 parks, its urban forest, its street lights, its fleet of aging vehicles, its many buildings and facilities and their internal workings, and its antiquated information technology and management information systems.
This $10 billion ticket does not include the infrastructure requirements for the Department of Water and Power, the Sewer Department, the Port of Los Angeles, or Los Angeles International Airport, all of which are supported by revenue sources other than the City’s General Fund. Nor does it include the $8 to $10 billion required for the stormwater master plan over the next twenty years.
Over the past year, we have heard about the $4 billion and $1.5 billion needed to repair our lunar cratered streets and cracked sidewalks, respectively, and the corresponding need for a substantial increase in our sales or property taxes.
But before the City proceeds with any such ballot measure, the City must provide the voters with a detailed analysis of the status of ALL of our infrastructure needs and a comprehensive operational, staffing, and financial plan to accomplish the repair and future maintenance of our infrastructure.
For example, without a plan, the voters may be asked to approve a $6 billion Street and Sidewalk Tax in one election, only to be surprised in the next election when they are hit up for a $50 million parcel tax for Recreation and Parks.
If the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti decide to proceed with a comprehensive infrastructure repair plan, City Hall must regain the trust, confidence, and respect of the skeptical voters.
An easy first step for the City would be to follow the recommendations of Mickey Kantor’s LA 2020 Commission. This would involve establishing an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s operations and finances and forming a Committee for Retirement Security that would report back within 120 days on “how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.”
If the City wants to increase our taxes, it has almost two years until the November 2016 Presidential election to get its act together. And while national election will result in a more receptive electorate, the ballot will be crowded with a slew of tax measures from the State, County, and the Los Angeles Unified School District that will overwhelm the voters.
At the State level, the Sacramento gang is considering extending the temporary Proposition 30 sales and income tax increases that were approved by only 55% of the voters in November of 2012. There is also talk about an oil extraction tax and a $2 a pack hike in the cigarette tax. There is even talk about amending Proposition 13 so that property owned by businesses would be taxed on their fair market value.
The County of Los Angeles is contemplating another half cent bump in our sales tax to fund County wide transportation projects.
And only the Devil knows what scheme is being cooked up by LAUSD.
A crowded and confusing ballot and the lack of trust, confidence, and respect in our Elected Elite may force the City to make a deal with the voters where any new taxes are contingent on the approval of a charter amendment that requires that the City Live Within Its Means.
This would require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan, pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and over the next twenty years, fully fund its pension plans and fix our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure.
While this charter reform will not be popular with the Herb Wesson led City Council and the leadership of the City’s public unions, it is an integral part of any solution to repair the City’s finances.
Put another way, we cannot trust our Elected Elite. We need to ensure that City Hall does not dump a $30 billion burden of unfunded pensions and deferred maintenance on the next generation of Angelenos. We should leave our City in better shape than it is now, with fully funded pensions and streets and sidewalks that are safe for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Cross-posted at City Watch LA.