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Hero needed to stand up to city unions.


I don't like to see people get fired, especially me, so it's been pretty tough sledding these past months.

Five million jobs have been lost since 2008 - 5 million! That's a lot of displacement, a lot of pain. Economists (do they ever get laid off?) have all kinds of mumbo-jumbo terminology to describe mass firings; "down-sizing," "contraction," "market adjustments" and my personal favorite, "negative growth." Five million Americans have had their personal Chrysler plant close. That's certainly depressing even if it's not a depression.

However, it's not all gloom. If you work for the city of Los Angeles, you've been spared the pain - except for one guy.

As I said, I don't like to see people lose their jobs, but sometimes cuts are necessary, even helpful. Consider L.A.'s fiscal mess.

Last year we had a $406 million hole in the budget. Mayor V boldly announced the city would shed 767 jobs. That showed real leadership - taking on the unions - biting the hand that feeds and votes for him, which is pretty much the same people.

However, that 767 number seems to have been pulled out of thin air, perhaps literally. After all, the 767 is one of the more popular jets the mayor uses to fly away from L.A. The actual number of city jobs eliminated was closer to 600 and all but one of those jobs was already vacant. So while the mayor pledged to trim the L.A. city work force by 767 jobs, he actually eliminated 600 vacant jobs that didn't save us a penny since nobody held them, which leads us back to the one guy who did get fired.

What in the world must he have been like? Considering some of the gems we still employ, including some we elected, the mind boggles at how big a screwup the one guy who actually got fired must have been.

But he was not fired in vain. The one guy who got fired established the formula for fiscal sanity in Los Angeles. If a $400 million budget gap equals a single laid off city employee, this year's projected billion dollar budget hole means we can expect another 1.5 city workers to get it next. It's nervous time at SEIU headquarters.

The mayor and the City Council handed out fantastic contracts to their friends in the public employee unions, and now the cost of those contracts are budget busters. The unions are always popular whipping posts for the taxpaying public and I hear private sector workers grouse about fat union contracts, mostly out of envy. I've bellyached plenty. But there aren't many of us who would pass on the wages, benefits, holidays and pensions the city has given its employees if we could get the same deal. But any sympathy I have for L.A.'s unions evaporates when the mention of cutbacks produces caterwauling threats, demonstrations and screams of apocalypse.

The recent United Teachers of Los Angeles protest at the school board meeting created headlines and a news sensation at the mere suggestion some teachers might have to go.

I share the teacher's frustration at possible layoffs, but unions must be told "enough" as a matter of survival.

The money well is drying up, and if we try to tax ourselves to solvency, we'll tax our base to leave the state.

Here's a simple roadmap to recovery for Los Angeles: study the reforms and fiscal disciple Gerald Ford imposed on New York City in the 1970s. After decades of reckless financial behavior, President Ford told the Big Apple to "Drop Dead." Guess what? New York fired 40,000 employees and the city didn't drop dead: It thrived. It became a better city. Meanwhile, Ford lost to Jimmy Carter largely because of New Yorkers.

Tragically, that's the lesson politicians learned from New York in the 1970s. Is there a leader today with the guts to tell Los Angeles to "Drop Dead?" Villaraigosa? Schwarzenegger? Obama? Anyone? Or do we get bailed out with other people's money and keep digging the hole deeper?
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 8, 2009
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