Los Angeles, America’s second-largest city, elected a liberal Democrat as its new mayor yesterday. But the fact that winner Eric Garcetti was opposed by public-employee unions is a hopeful sign for the city’s future.
City unions plowed some $5 million into the election behind Wendy Greuel, dwarfing the union support that went to Garcetti. During the time both candidates have spent on the LA City Council, it became clear the unions would rather negotiate with Greuel. While both candidates backed an infamous 2007 deal that raised city-employee pay by 25 percent over five years, Garcetti has been more willing in recent years to confront the unions over the need for compromises.
The city has been paying expenses in recent years by cutting back on services and deferring maintenance. It has a backlog of 60 years when it comes to street repairs. Since 90 percent of the city’s budget is spent on current personnel or pensions for retired employees, excessive union demands are considered an obstacle to the city’s quality of life. Within five years, the cost of retiree benefits will consume 25 percent of the city’s entire budget.
Especially unpopular are workers at the Department of Water and Power, where the average salary is $100,000 and the water bills are punishingly high.
In the end, Greuel’s overwhelming union support tainted her in the eyes of voters. A Los Angeles Times poll found 46 percent of eligible voters said Greuel cared more about powerful public-employee unions than the city as a whole. Only 26 percent said the same about Garcetti.
The new mayor will face problems beyond greedy city unions and a budget bleeding red ink. Los Angeles has been losing jobs at the same time it has been gaining population. Garcetti’s biggest challenge will be to try to reverse the city’s anti-business reputation and try to kick-start real economic growth that will generate taxes that can pay the city’s bills.