LA WATCHDOG--At its December 6 meeting, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power approved the transfer of $264 million of Ratepayer money from DWP’s Power System to the City coffers without any discussion, once again demonstrating their disregard for the Ratepayers and our hard earned cash. But this is standard operating procedure as witnessed by the Board’s recent blessing of the above market $41 million lease for the City owned Figueroa Plaza and the uneconomic $12 million Rooftop Solar Program.
The Commissioners also knew that the $264 million 8% Transfer Fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit that alleges that this fee is really a tax as it exceeds the cost of providing electrical service to the Ratepayers. This violates the California constitution because the tax has not been approved by the City’s voters.
But the Board does not bear the sole responsibility for its failure to stand up for the best interests of the Ratepayers. Behind the scenes is Mayor Eric Garcetti, calling the shots, pulling the strings, and directing the Commissioners to approve actions that help satisfy City Hall’s addiction to our cash.
But this $264 million transfer tax is $27 million less than budgeted $291 million, which, when combined with the projected budget deficit of $82 million for this year, will result in red ink of $110 million. And this does not include the projected $35 million shortfall in property tax revenues.
To fund this deficit, the City is considering issuing a $70 million Judgment Obligation Bond and/or levying a special assessment on the Department of Water and Power.
The City is desperate to settle the class action lawsuit in a way that will preserve all or most of the Transfer Tax without giving us the opportunity to vote on this tax. Rumors from well-placed sources indicate that the City is close to settling the class action litigation where the City will cap the transfer at $250 million a year without giving the voters the opportunity to approve or reject this tax.
This, however, will not be without a fight as taxpayers will protest any settlement that does not require a vote.
The purpose of this pushback is not to break the City, but to reform the City’s budget process.
As an incentive for voters to support the $250 million Transfer Tax (the equivalent of a half cent increase in our sales tax or a 5% bump in our property taxes), the City should also place a LIVE WITHIN ITS MEANS* charter amendment on the ballot. Each measure would require voter approval of the other ballot measure.
While we would all like to “save” $250 million a year, this is a fair price to pay for real budget reform, especially given that our fiscally irresponsible Mayor has been unwilling to confront the City’s Structural Deficit that continues to produce rivers of red ink, lunar cratered streets, and massive unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually overwhelm the City’s budget.
Here’s to Real Reform and a Happy, Healthy, and Wet 2017.
*The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment will require the City to develop and adhere to a Seven Year Financial Plan; to pass three year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to prohibit any labor contracts that result in future budget deficits; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within 20 years; to implement a 20 year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)