Photo by Sam Hodgson
Statement: “We’re going to have to cut services dramatically … And there’s going to be some public safety implications, implications in terms of services throughout the neighborhoods,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a supporter of the Proposition D sales tax increase, in a U-T San Diego Q&A, Aug. 29, 2010.
Did It Come True? No
Analysis: Two years ago, what was called a grand coalition of civic leaders gave you a choice.
Vote yes on Proposition D, a half-cent sales tax hike linked to 10 financial reforms, and San Diego would balance its budget and preserve and restore vital services, such as police and fire. Vote no on D and no service, especially police and fire, was safe from further cuts.
“We’re going to have to cut services dramatically,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, Prop. D’s major supporter, told U-T San Diego in a Q&A less than three months before Election Day. ” … And there’s going to be some public safety implications, implications in terms of services throughout the neighborhoods.”
We’re looking into statements like Sanders’ as part of our new project in the Fact Check Blog to examine big warnings and promises from past debates and figure out whether they came true. We’ve decided it was better to call this series “Reality Check” to better reflect the predictive nature of the original claims. Think of Reality Check as Fact Check’s cousin.
Sanders and the Yes on D campaign made public safety their central argument. The campaign logo resembled red and blue police lights and television commercials featured images of cops and firefighters.
To help close what was then a projected $72 million deficit, city officials said they might have to cut 162 sworn police officers and 60 firefighters and idle five more fire engines to go along with the eight already off line. Sanders and his deputies went on a traveling roadshow of community forums around the city to detail these potential cuts.
Opponents of Prop. D decried this strategy as scare tactics designed to frighten voters into backing an unnecessary tax hike. Draconian cuts, they said, weren’t coming if the measure failed.
The measure failed with 62 percent of the vote.
And the opponents were right.
The city balanced its budget for 2012, the next budget after Prop. D lost, without any significant service reductions. Even more, the city added $8.7 million to the Fire Department to restore the eight idled or “browned out” fire engines.
For this year’s budget, the city made greater service improvements, adding back some previously lost library and recreation center hours, restoring funding for fire pits and a graffiti removal team and sponsoring new fire and police academies. Sanders declared the budget structurally balanced, meaning long-term expenditures equaled long-term revenues, for the first time in at least a decade.
“I don’t think we’re in a financial crisis at all,” Sanders said when he unveiled the budget.
So what happened? It was the economy, stupid.
Better than expected returns from Wall Street boosted the city’s pension fund, which shaved more than $20 million off the deficit. Improved sales tax and hotel-room tax revenues helped, too. Cost-cutting measures, such as competitive bidding for publishing and fleet maintenance services, saved a small amount.
The same thing happened for this year’s budget. The pension fund again outperformed, saving $18 million. Sales and hotel-room taxes did better than expected. Cost-cutting measures also saved a few million dollars.
During the Prop. D campaign and immediately after, indications were there that the public safety cuts weren’t going to happen as described. City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said after one of the community budget forums that the city would likely find a way to spare public safety, at least in part. And just eight days after the election, Goldstone told a council committee that tax revenues were looking better than expected, and that he didn’t recommend immediate cuts.
Last April, U-T San Diego asked Sanders why the cuts he detailed during the campaign, didn’t happen.
“After it was over, I said ‘You know, I’m not throwing my sucker in the dirt and now just decimating things just to show you that I was right,’” Sanders said. “I said that we would always re-prioritize and the fact that we got some additional revenues helped to cushion us.”
In response to a question for this story, Sanders spokesman Darren Pudgil said the mayor based his decision to support the tax hike on the best information he had at the time.
“That prediction was based on the city’s financial outlook in the summer of 2010, when the mayor decided to support the measure,” Pudgil said in a statement.
Still, the mayor’s claim that the city would have to cut services dramatically, particularly in public safety, if Prop. D failed has proven not to come true. In fact, the city restored services.
One more note: The city’s financial situation isn’t fixed. As we’ve reported, the next mayor will face a deficit of at least $49 million if he accounts for the costs to implement the Proposition B pension initiative and to maintain roads and other infrastructure at their current levels. The recent revelation that the pension fund didn’t perform as well as expected last year, will reportedly add another $8 million to the deficit.
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Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects.
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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