Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to furlough thousands of city workers for 26 days out of the next fiscal year as one of several measures to help balance the budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic during his State of the City address on Sunday evening.
The furloughs will affect all civilian employees and will be equivalent to a 10% reduction in pay and will take effect July 1, the mayor said. A hiring freeze already put in place will remain in effect, as well.
“I do not take that step lightly. I know every day we’re down even one person is a loss to our city, and it’s my priority to reduce the number of furlough days as soon as possible,” he said.
The address was largely dominated by the ongoing battle against COVID-19, and its devastating affects on the city’s people and economy.
Despite entering the crisis with record reserves, the city’s current financial outlook is dire, Garcetti said. The current situation will be more severe than the recession of 2008, he said.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat this: This is bigger, and it will hurt more,” Garcetti said. “Our city revenues have plummeted. Hotel reservations have collapsed.”
“From a fiscal perspective, this is the worst it’s ever been,” he said. “We’ve borrowed $70 million to date from our special funds and our reserve fund to front the costs related to our COVID-19 response.”
While some of the money will likely be reimbursed by the state and federal governments, “some may not,” the mayor said. “But under no circumstance was I going to save pennies and lose lives.”
The goals of preserving life and boosting the economy go hand-in hand, Garcetti said.
“The only way to save our economy is to save lives, and the only way we can save lives is by clearing a path to safely reopen our economy,” he said.
While plans are already under way to reopen Los Angeles, the timing of when that will happen will depend on infection data.
“There’s good reason to believe that your actions have absolutely helped us flatten this curve, but to be clear, the numbers still are going up,” Garcetti said. “Yesterday, we lost 81 Angelenos. Until our numbers start to shrink, we still have a lot of work to do. And each of those dots on a graph represents one human life cut short.”
Los Angeles County had 12,341 confirmed COVID-19 cases and a total of 600 deaths as of Sunday. The 81 deaths reported Saturday marked the county’s deadliest day by far.
The mayor laid out five steps to get business moving again in the city. They included expanding virus and antibody testing, establishing real-time testing, immediate tracing and tracking response to outbreaks; building and maintaining hospital capacity; and research and development into treatments and vaccine.
“It may be months, my friends, before we safely gather in large groups,” Garcetti said. “It may be a year or more before a vaccine or medicine frees us from periodically returning to safer-at-home, but I am so proud of what we have done as a city to staunch the bleeding.”
He pointed to the city’s rent freeze, eviction mortorium and Angeleno Card program as examples.
“Right now, we’re only in the first battle of this fight. Without a vaccine, we will almost certainly see a second wave of this novel coronavirus,” the mayor said. “But let me be clear, we cannot stay indoors for six or seven months without risking an even greater economic catastrophe.”
Garcetti called on the federal government to loosen regulations to allow federal funds be used to repay more of the city’s COVID-19 related expenses.
“Help bail out America’s cities just as you bailed out the banks,” he said.