David Frum

04.10.13

The Real Battle for Los Angeles: Does the Bureaucracy Serve Taxpayers?

Charles Moran, who helped raise funds for Kevin James in the Los Angeles mayor race, with a guest post on the upcoming vote that amounts to a referendum on LA's future:

David McNew/Getty Images ()

Only a few weeks remain until the runoff election for mayor of Los Angeles. Two candidates will face each other on May 21: former LA City Council President Eric Garcetti and LA City Controller Wendy Greuel. Garcetti has promised to reform municipal worker pension plans. He's taken heat, but refused to back down. Greuel, on the other hand, has retreated from her promise to bring public employee unions back to the bargaining table, seemingly ‘doubling down’ on public sector union support.

Wendy Greuel's strategy has gained her $2 million in support from one of the city's most powerful unions, which represents workers at the Department of Water and Power. But at what cost to the city?

“I don’t know how anybody gives you that much money and you say no to them,” said Jan Perry, a councilwoman who came in fourth in last month’s mayoral primary and has endorsed Mr. Garcetti. “I don’t know how that is humanly possible; I think you will always say ‘yes’ for a very long time.”

In the face of such criticism, Ms. Greuel has accused the Garcetti campaign of demonizing city workers. “We have to bring labor and business together so that there isn’t paralysis,” she said. “These aren’t mutually exclusive groups.”

In municipal elections, it’s not just labor – but public employees that receive the largest share of the pie. This class of workers isn’t just protected by their labor union reps, but also by Civil Service protections, which is something that private sector unions do not have.

The problem is that Los Angeles is deep under-water, financially. And its unionized, civil-service protected workforce is paid more, on average, with higher wages and better benefits, than even its private-sector counterparts.

Somehow, LA still can’t manage to balance the budget – even with constant rate hikes for water and power, fees for 911 calls, a tripling of trash-hauling fees and a punishing gross receipts tax on businesses. Our roads are a mess, our infrastructure is degrading and public safety is on the line, as our politicians remind us. Yet public employee unions refuse to engage in meaningful reforms that a modern workforce requires.

The issue on the ballot in May: does the bureaucracy exist to serve its residents, or do residents exist to serve the bureaucracy? Neither candidate offers the kind of change that Los Angeles truly needs. But on the showing so far, there's good reason, that Mr. Garcetti has secured the endorsement and support of all of the other top-tier candidates for mayor who did not make it into the runoff.