It is with tremendous gratitude that I move forward today – gratitude for the people now in our family’s life, for the knowledge I’ve acquired, and for the opportunity to participate in our democratic process. Over the past 6 months, I was permitted nearly unfettered access to our community and its people as we engaged in thousands of conversations on thousands of doorsteps, sidewalks, restaurants, and street corners. Thank you to all of the people who invested their time and money in our campaign. We were far stronger because of them.
It’s been a very difficult 2 weeks for our community and for our country. We’ve all experienced varying degrees of shock, horror, and profound sadness as this tragedy continues to unfold in Newtown. I watch not only as a concerned citizen, but also as a father of three young girls, and a teacher. It is as a teacher that I speak to you today.
I believe that all students in my classroom bring with them the unlimited capacity for human greatness. My job is to provide the basic tools of discovery, and offer my assistance in their journey to unlock that greatness. That’s why I became a teacher.
But, teaching is not just the acquisition of knowledge. It is far more complex than that. Consider this. Everyday, hundreds of mothers and fathers leave us responsible for the most precious thing in their lives: their babies.
I've been collecting signatures to get on the March 5, 2013 ballot as a candidate for city council and it's been going well. I wanted to check in with some of the things I've heard from my neighbors.
Up and down the district, people are tired of the excuses for the poor level of service we're getting from our city. People don't want to increase the sales tax, the parcel taxes, or anything else that will give our local government more money than they already have ($7+ billion a year!) until meaningful pension reform is enacted, our budget is published online, and the people of the city get the attention they deserve.
Basically, we want our government to put people first, politics last. Stop currying favor with your political backers and start working to serve the city - not just the city's employees. The sad fact is, nearly half of the city employees don't even live in LA.
Veterans Day is special to me because it was my grandfather who provided the guidance that saved me from the life of poverty that surrounded me as a kid. My dad died when I was just 2 and my mom struggled tremendously to move on without him. So, my grandfather stepped in as much as he was permitted and was a profoundly loving man to me; both masculine and tender. He also had the kind of unmitigated honesty that was always cheerful, even when it bit you hard.
LA City Council faces $1 billion in budget shortfalls over the next four years. To fix it, they want to tax us more. But all that will do is to preserve the current levels of service, which I believe we can agree are supremely inadequate.
Take a good look at the tree in the picture. It's a ficus with a base that is 4 1/2 inches wide and stands 4 feet tall. It took two years to grow that tall in the trash that fills the gutter along La Tijera in Westchester, home to LAX. It's not the only spot that's been neglected, but it's the most obvious evidence of just how long it's been since our city council office has paid any real attention to providing basic city services. Well, instead of just complaining, we decided to host a community clean-up in Westchester this December 1 to take care of our neighborhood because we just can’t wait for our local government to do it for us.
Take a look at all the health problems we face because of soda. Now think of the cost, not just in dental care, but the lost time because of missing work before and after treatment. Consider all of the time lost for people in their leisure time while struggling with their health.
Soda provides no benefit, yet millions in Los Angeles drink 1 or more sodas every day. Lets tax it at a penny an ounce and raise over $100 million every year to bridge the gap in our budget and fund the installation of community gardens on every school campus.
For far too long, our city has suffered under a secretive, closed culture in our local government– cronyism as some call it. Well, the results of this system are in. We’re facing a one billion dollar budget shortfall in the next four years. We also have $10 Billion in unfunded pension liabilities and active major lawsuits against the city, the largest of which (we know about) is $750 million. Currently, 77% of our general fund goes to salaries and pensions for city employees and that number is expected to reach 100% within five years.
The biggest piece of this problem comes from the public safety sector – police and firefighters. They can retire at age 50 with 90% of their salary paid out to them each year for the rest of their lives.
They can even save their sick and vacation time up and cash it all in during their last year of work, count it as salary, and that artificially high number is what we base their pension on.
Do they deserve it? Yes. Do I blame the police and fire unions? Not at all. This is not the fault of the unions. They did what they are supposed to do: get the best deal possible for their members.
The fault lies with city officials who sought to curry favor with those unions at taxpayer expense, writing checks today that won't be cashed until years after they leave office.
Can we afford it? Perhaps. Do we need higher contributions to do that? Most likely.
But more than anything, we need to bring to light this issue so that the community can have an honest discussion about the best path forward. Perhaps we will all agree that a 90% pension IS worth it. I think it might be, but acknowledging the challenges of providing such a generous benefit necessitates hard discussions about how we will fund such a pension.
But our politicians are frequently more frightened of the political backlash they’re going to get from fixing the pension problem than they are or propping something up that will collapse later on, stranding retirees with nothing.
Our police and fire personnel risk too much to shortchange their retirement.
Recent proposals to increase revenue for the city of Los Angeles have brought forth two major changes; one to increase parking taxes and one to increase the title transfer tax. It is the second proposition that I wish to address now.
The idea is to double the tax a person pays to transfer the title of a property from $4.50 to $9 for every $1,000 of value. That means that after a sale of a home at the median value of around $500,000, there will be a tax of $4,500 instead of $2,250. That’s significant.
I understand that there is a need to create more revenue in order to balance the budget and one look at my neighborhood here in Westchester shows me how far city services have fallen below what is satisfactory, but is it wise to propose increasing the taxes on transferring titles when our current recession continues to slog along because of historic downturns in the housing market?