“Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.”
Remember that saying?
We are going to need two things moving forward to bring our public finances, state, city, and federal, into equilibrium. To put it bluntly, political courage and bold leadership. The tools that we have are spending cuts and finding new sources of revenue.
Everyone will have to make a sacrifice. The rank and file is going to have to pay a little more for their health care and their pensions. They’re going to have to freeze their salaries for the foreseeable future. But this has to be a shared sacrifice. These cuts have to apply to politicians and city administrators as well. The only way an elected leader is going to have any hope at all of cutting through the rhetoric and negotiating concessions is if he or she has credibility. Walking the walk.
Let’s first embrace the fact that our shared sacrifice will allow us to truly fulfill our shared purpose of serving the public. Voters are more likely to be convinced of the need to pay new taxes if our government is demonstrating that it is efficient and without waste, and that not a single cent is being misused.
That is why I have committed to halving my salary, refusing a city car, halving the massive (20 person) council office staffs, eliminating the slush fund, and cutting everything, and I mean everything, that is non-essential.
I first committed to this last fall because I thought it was the right thing to do. Morally, I could not handle the idea of collecting an almost a quarter of a million dollars’ compensation package when just blocks from city hall, thousands of people sleep on the street. How could I explain that to my children?
After going door to door in recent months and talking to voters in the 4th district, I realize this is now also a confidence building matter. Many voters I’ve spoken with are deeply distrustful of City Hall culture and their Council Member. At what point does managing the expectations of constituents and their perceptions of you take the place of political courage and real leadership?
I have learned through my volunteer work in public education that when you build trust among teachers, parents, and administrators, just about everything else falls into place. Building community begins just like building any relationship. People need to slowly learn to trust each other. It takes honesty, humility and a fierce desire to be of service. What keeps people thriving together is trust. We need to rebuild trust in our government.
Political leaders can do their part by walking the walk and by cutting their largesse. It doesn’t matter if it is a $2 cup of coffee paid for by the taxpayer or the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pet projects paid for by the CRA piggy bank; it’s all money that were our voters given a chance to weigh in, they likely would say, “Please don’t do that.”
As long as voters believe that our government is wasting their money, they will refuse to pay additional taxes to pay for the things we all hold dear, and as long as public sector workers believe that our elected leaders are living like kings, they will refuse to concede.
L.A. can’t let "business as usual" set the standard anymore. It’s not good enough. Until you, the voters, put people in City Hall who refuse to accept the status quo, then the problems we face today, will look minuscule in comparison to five years from now.
Tomas O’Grady, Democratic candidate for City Council in CD 4, lives in Los Feliz with his wife and four children. He is a small businessman and community activist.