Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released Thursday and includes a significant boost of $800 million more than last year.
The new money in the $9.86 billion budget was fueled by a healthy economy, which led to a 5.6 percent increase in key tax revenue, as well as an influx of new revenue from Measure M, a county transportation measure approved by voters in 2016, and the statewide Senate Bill 1 or so-called “gas tax” for fixing roads, freeways and bridges.
Garcetti plans to officially unveil the budget at a noon news conference.
According to his office, which released some budget details to reporters in advance of the news conference, the proposed budget includes an increase in the General Fund from $5.8 billion to $6.17 billion. When special funds are included, which is revenue that must be spent in certain ways, the overall budget increases from $9.2 billion to $9.86 billion.
With the increased revenue, the proposed budget at a glance does not appear to include cuts or trims in areas that traditionally can cause blowback or controversy, while it also maintains or provides increases in key areas. There is enough money to maintain the current staffing levels of the Los Angeles Police Department at more than 10,000 sworn officers; money to hire more firefighters; a boost for projects aimed at helping the homeless; more money for the mayor’s Vision Zero road safety program; an extra $10 million for sidewalk repairs over the current budget; more resources for street repairs; and enough to keep the Reserve Fund above 5 percent with additions to the Budget Stabilization Fund.
Garcetti released few details about his proposed budget in advance of Thursday, but did reveal his intended increases in money to fight homelessness ahead of his State of the City speech on Monday, where he dubbed homelessness “the” issue facing Los Angeles. The city saw a spike in homelessness last year by 20 percent, or about 34,000 people.
Garcetti has proposed increasing funding for homelessness programs from the current year’s $178.5 million to more than $429 million, although more than half of the new spending would use funds from Measure HHH, a bond measure which Garcetti helped convince city voters to approve in 2016 and is expected to raise $1.2 billion over 10 years for permanent supportive housing construction.
HHH funds are not considered to be part of the city’s $9.86 billion budget but are tracked separately along with other bond revenue. Garcetti’s proposed non-HHH funding includes an increase from $90.8 million to $154.6 million, according to his office.
Last year’s budget deliberations by the City Council saw few public disagreements, but Vision Zero funding proved to be one of the sticking points.
At a new conference on Tuesday Garcetti said he was proposing that the Vision Zero budget be increased from $27 million to $91 million, but those figures do not appear to add up to numbers released by his office.
The budget for Vision Zero this fiscal year, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025 by making traffic safety improvements, is around $27 million. The program has fallen short of a number of its goals so far, and Garcetti did not mention it during his State of the City speech. When told by reporters that some activists who support the program were upset he did not talk about Vision Zero in his speech, he said, “Last year we put $27 million into Vision Zero. This year’s budget, which we will release soon … will have $91 million.”
Despite Garcetti’s statement, the numbers released by his office don’t match up and would appear to only include a modest increase.
The Vision Zero plan centers around an identified series of streets, called the High Injury Network, which have a higher incidence of severe and fatal collisions. It prioritizes those streets for safety improvements.
According to Garcetti’s office, the new budget includes $38 million for programs on the High Injury Network and $52 million in similar improvements on roads not on the high injury network. Last year, when adding up both High Injury Network and non-HIN work, the total came to $78 million. Garcetti’s proposed budget summary states it includes “over $90 million” for the Vision Zero Action Plan.
The program was started in 2015 but saw pedestrian deaths surge more that 80 percent in its first two years while the program also fell short of its goal to reduce overall traffic deaths by 20 percent by 2017. T
During budget meetings last year, Councilman Mike Bonin fought hard for the program’s funding amid efforts by other council members to divert Vision Zero dollars toward more traditional street improvement projects. Some of the funding was coming from Measure M, which a few council members said was a program pitched to voters about fixing streets, not making advanced safety improvements. As a result, some council members said they were uncomfortable moving the money into Vision Zero.
However, Bonin and Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, struck a late deal that allowed for about $17 million in direct funding for the program by focusing on areas where Vision Zero and the more traditional improvement projects overlapped. The $17 million was in addition to about $9 million in Vision Zero funds that have been included in various departments’ budgets, including the police department. The program only received $3 million in the 2016-17 budget.
With the overlap last year in how Vision Zero was budgeted, along with the funding in the budget for non-HIN work this year pitched as “Vision Zero,” it is getting difficult to determine exactly how much is going directly toward the kind of safety projects the program says will reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths. The Department of Transportation has said that $80 million would be needed to meet the program’s goals and timeline.
The budget includes $41 million for sidewalk repairs, which is above the current year’s budget of $31 million and was the first down payment on a $1 billion program to fix all of the city’s sidewalks over the next 30 years. The 30-year plan is part of a court settlement that was reached after disability advocates sued the city over the state of its sidewalks.