With $27 billion budget approved, L.A. County looks to address minimum wage

Earlier today, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve a balanced $27 billion operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Our years of fiscal prudence have paid off, allowing us to address critical issues such as the criminal justice system, our jail facilities and the child welfare system. While the County remains in good financial standing, we need to refocus our efforts on creating jobs locally, especially for those hit hardest by the recession. That is why I asked the Interim Chief Executive Officer to identify additional funding in the budget to support our youth jobs program. We are expecting to employ more than 12,000 youth this year, but I believe we should look for ways to expand our efforts and offer young people meaningful work experiences and skill-building opportunities. It’s been said that “small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.” By increasing the available funding for this program, we’ll be able to give even more young adults that same opportunity.

Speaking of jobs, the Board of Supervisors will begin discussions tomorrow over raising the minimum wage in unincorporated Los Angeles County to $15 an hour. While I support the idea of creating a minimum wage policy for County employees, I do have concerns about moving forward with a Countywide Minimum Wage Ordinance for a number of reasons. My first concern is the business reaction to the increased built-in costs. It’s still undetermined how businesses will absorb these new wages. They could freeze hiring, reduce hours, raise prices or even replace workers. Another issue I have is the impact on unemployment. Our studies have shown that a minimum wage increase would not make a positive impact on unemployment, create jobs nor move people out of poverty. My third issue is with indexing the wage increase to inflation or any kind of automatic process. When the great recession struck, we weathered it by working with our unions and agreeing to freeze wages, thereby avoiding layoffs and furloughs. Unlike other jurisdictions, our flexibility enabled us to avoid economic collapse and preserve our safety net services. If we tie business’ hands with mandated increases, we limit their options in an economic downturn.

Let me be clear: You cannot raise a family on a minimum wage in Los Angeles County. But we must be prudent in how we get there and ensure that we are actually helping those we are trying to support. Placing this entire burden on the backs of business is not the solution and passing the additional costs on to the consumer is not good public policy either. Let’s be thoughtful and do this right. I do not want to be in a position of making promises we can’t afford to keep.