L.A. County budget grows slightly in new proposal amid rosier economic outlook

Los Angeles County officials on Monday proposed a $38.5-billion budget for the next fiscal year, a modest increase over last year’s proposal, reflecting a rosier economic outlook tempered by inflation fears and global conflict.

The spending proposal is more than $2 billion larger than the 2021-22 budget proposal submitted a year after the pandemic began. That budget was ultimately adopted at $39.4 billion.

The plan for 2022-23, which begins July 1, calls for 500 new positions. The county, with a total proposed workforce of 111,551, has 1,500 fewer jobs than in the 2019-20 fiscal year, the last budget adopted before the pandemic. The 2020-21 budget eliminated more than 2,580 positions.

“The decrease in COVID-19 community transmission has led to the easing of public health restrictions, and as a result, we expect sustained moderate growth in our economic outlook,” L.A. County Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport said in her proposal to the Board of Supervisors.

The optimism is driven by projected increases of $381 million in property tax revenue and $70 million in sales tax revenue.

When the 2021-22 budget was proposed last April, the county had seen a $735-million drop in sales tax revenue.

Davenport noted that the budget also reflects “fiscal caution” regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its effect on oil prices as well as new coronavirus variants and inflation.

“To help mitigate against these uncertainties, included in this budget is a recommendation to set aside funding … as a hedge against unforeseen events,” Davenport wrote.

The budget adds $20.2 million to the county’s contingency fund, bringing that total to $45.3 million.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed spending increases would be homeless and affordable housing services, public health and public road works, which received a funding boost of $30.4 million.

Funding for Measure H homeless services would surge in the recommended budget from the $427 million suggested last year to $493.9 million for additional prevention, outreach and interim and permanent housing solutions.

The budget sets aside an additional $26.6 million, for a total of $100 million, for “the development and preservation of affordable housing.” The funds will support housing for low-income residents as well as “eviction defense, mortgage relief, rapid re-housing, homeownership, and acquisition.”

The Department of Public Health would receive an additional $22.6 million and 116 new positions, offset by grant funding, to “primarily support current operational needs that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic” and to prepare for future public health crises, Davenport wrote.

The proposal increases spending on nurses by $33.2 million and adds nearly 200 positions in that sector to “to meet the state’s regulatory requirements for hospitals that provide adult critical care services.”

The Care First, Jails Last initiative, aimed at overhauling the county jail system by diverting people out of incarceration and attempting to close the Men’s Central Jail, would see its budget doubled to $200 million.

The cash influx is part of a plan to eventually allocate 10% of locally generated, unrestricted revenues in the general fund to Care First and Community Investment (formerly Measure J) programs.

The budget would provide $12.3 million for more academy classes for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose funding remains around $3.4 billion, virtually unchanged from the 2021-22 budget proposal.

The proposal must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

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