By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

California, with its complex mélange of cultural, demographic and economic forces, may be, some observers contend, just a concentrated microcosm of the United States, telling the rest of the nation what it can expect as the 21st century unwinds.

If that’s true, Los Angeles is a microcosm of California. That makes the city’s budget crisis not only a reflection of the state’s own chronic fiscal woes, but also a case study of the countervailing political forces.

Los Angeles is contending with budget deficits of $600 million-plus over the next 18 months. But it has a liberal mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and an even more liberal City Council, so in theory it should take the liberal approach to solving woes, which would mean keeping spending cuts to an absolute minimum and seeking new revenue.

Except that it isn’t, or can’t. Villaraigosa, who cut his political teeth as a labor organizer, is sounding like a conservative, budget-cutting Republican as he presses the council to slash city payrolls and other spending.

“There just aren’t unlimited options here,” Villaraigosa told the council in a rare public appearance the other day. “We can’t continue to say no to everything. We can’t say no to layoffs, no to furloughs, no to department eliminations. … The fact is, we can’t sustain this business model.”

Villaraigosa was highly critical of city unions, saying, “They took too long in their negotiations, and saying ‘no’ to virtually everything. We took too long in not making a tough decision.”

The council, which is closely tied to unions, has stalled on the 1,000 layoffs Villaraigosa wants to order. Meanwhile, however, the city’s fiscal peril is so intense that the B-word – bankruptcy – has crept into the conversation as bond rating agencies warn that the city may not be able to borrow money unless it cleans up its budget, citing the council’s indecision.

The mayor even warned that receivership would mean he and council members would lose control over city finances.

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