Assessment: Budget Assessment

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Los Angeles Budget Assessment

L.A. Budget Assessment

The author of this report has been asked to offer a budget assessment for a city of the author's preference and the author has selected the city of Los Angeles. The author will scrutinize and assess, the current budget structure, the service area, funds in operation, and an overall financial analysis will conclude the report. All APA sources used for this report will emanate from the city of Los Angeles or associated entities.

Budget Structure

On paper, at least, the budget seems pretty basic and there seems to be a generally good form and function to the budget. There is a bit of mismatch between the Mayor and the City Council on a number of budget sections, but the differences are mostly not entirely stark or out of whack. There is absolutely a demarcated capital budget program, as noted on page 433 of the 2012/2013 budget.

The total capital budget is $340 million which is a very stark rise from the adopted 2011/2012 budget, which was $291 million, or the actual estimated expenditures for that same year, which was about a quarter million. The vast majority of the capital budget is allocated to construction and capital improvements, with that tally being $285 million of the $340 million total. Most of the rest, nearly $47 million, comes from capitalized expenditures (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

Service Area or Program

The biggest budget item, and it was not even close, was police which stood at $1.2 billion. The closest section to police was general services, which stood at a quarter million…which is not even one quarter of what is spent on police expenditures. While the budget does not clearly state it in so many words, it is no mystery to most people while police costs in Los Angeles are so high, given the heavy crime that exists in many corners and sections of the city. One would not expect the budget to plainly state that. However, there is a nugget that can be found on page 445 of the budget that perhaps lends some insight into a major issue. Total receipts for the police/fire pension program is nearly a billion, standing at $918 million. However, total expenditures were nearly $1.1 billion. This leaves a shortfall of nearly $200 million (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

This is not the first year it has happened as much the same thing, and for roughly the same amount, happened in 2011/2012 with the adopted budget showing a shortfall of $242 million and the estimated actual shortfall being nearly $150 million. If that extends on for any great length of time, it will be bad news for the city of Los Angeles. In looking at the salaries associated with these pensions, it is clear that perhaps the benefits are a smidge too high, although this can be attributed largely (if not entirely) to the cost of living in the Los Angeles area. Even so, a typist making $35-45k is a bit too much to stomach for the average Joe that would make much less in a private sector version of the job (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

Funds in Operation

The 2012/2013 Los Angeles budget document stipulates that there are six major sources of funds for the Building and Safety Budget, with two of those six taking up the lion's share of the overall funds. In total, the funds add up to a total of $71 million. Of that, a little over $6 million is the general fund and nearly $65 million is from the Building and Safety Enterprise Fund. Modest amounts, about $140,000 to $300,000, come from Long-Range Planning, Off-Site Sign Period Fee Trust Fund and Repair & Demolition. There is a scant $21,000 that comes from the Sunshine Cyn Comm Amentities fund, at least according to the City Council. This latter amount was excluded from the mayor's figures (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

For the city's clerk office, a total of $25 million is spent with nearly all of that coming from the general fund. For community development, a total of $25 million is spent with most of the money coming from the Community Development Trust Fund and the Workforce Investment Act Fund. The City Council dumped about $320,000 in general fund money into this section while the mayor account for no general fund money. Emergency management accounts for $1.7 million or so with most of that coming from the general fund. The City Council again accounts for more general fund money going into this program, with the different being more than $100,000. Much the same pattern is seen with the ethics commission, with the City Council showing $250,000 more in spending than the mayor, again with the general fund being the main source (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

The pattern above is broken by the Finance portion of the bill, with the City Council and Mayor both allocating about $36.3 million but with the Council being slightly lower. Both parties show the general fund as being the primary source by far. The same holds true for general services, with both parties pegging the needed amount and revenue at about $215 million. It infrastructure is also the same with both parties at about $81 million but neighborhood empowerment shows as being nearly $2.3 million from the council and under $2.1 million for the mayor. Personnel, police, engineering, and many other programs are in sync between the two parties. General city purposes is very different between the two parties with the Council actually showing $6 million less than the mayor (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

Each different department/section in the budget largely derives its funds from the general fund but each section also has a number of trust funds and other sources of revenue that directly supplement the line items as well. Examples of this in action include parking tickets, property seizures by law enforcement, road tolls, admission fees for city attractions and amenities, administration fees collected whilst administering certain city programs and so forth. That being said, investments and the general fund are the major source of funds for most, but not all, of the different programs in the Los Angeles city government (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

The balances of the general fund as well as the balance of the other major funds that supplement or majorly fund the different sections of the city government seem to be collecting at a good clip but there are several sections that are drains on the general fund (or on particular other funds) based on the fact that outlays are outstripping receipts in different sections of the budget with pensions being the most glaring example of this. Also concerning is that the city council and Mayor do not seem to have a lot of synergy and agreement on where exactly all the money should go, which is a bit odd given that pretty much everyone involved in the equation is a Democrat. It is no secret that Republicans are quite uncommon in California and in much of the greater Los Angeles area (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

Even with the outliers as mentioned above, revenue does not seem to be at issue. Instead, it is more an issue of spending. The fact that police spending is much more than many other departments in the budget combined is also concerning. Capital fund and revenue growth seem to be growing at quite a good clip, so that is not the issue. Instead, it would seem that expenditures, at least with some programs, are growing faster (if not much faster) than the revenue that is meant to fund it with police and pensions overall being the major genesis of this mismatch. This is not to say that Los Angeles should slash their police or pensions amounts, but it is clear that the proverbial golden goose that is the Los Angeles budget is in peril of getting out of control and the rate of spending increases need to be more spread out and deliberate if at all possible (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

Financial Analysis

As noted already throughout this report, Los Angeles is in a precarious position due to its commitments, both in writing and via societal/ethical expectations, regarding police/fire spending and pensions in general. Not unlike Social Security at the federal level and the general animosity directed towards any reductions in police/fire spending, it is very difficult to make sweeping reforms and/or changes to spending on these expenditures when the social and worker sensitivity to doing so is very high (City of Los Angeles, 2013).

The Balanced Budget Challenge website says much the same thing on their website. They note that the total Los Angeles city budget for 2013/2014 comes to about $4.84 billion. This is a problem because the estimated revenue for that same time horizon are expected to come to $4.62 billion. This would be a total of $216 million if it turns out to be accurate (L.A. Budget Challenge,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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