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Statement: “One of things that we’ve done in the District Attorney’s Office is to downsize the budget,” Bonnie Dumanis said at a mayoral candidate forum Feb. 10.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Dumanis is campaigning for mayor on her record at the District Attorney’s Office, and argues that overseeing a major government agency distinguishes her as the most qualified candidate to lead the city.

“Being the mayor of San Diego is being the chief executive officer, the CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation,” she said at a candidates’ forum last week. “I’ve learned the skills of being a chief executive.”

Those administrative skills, she said, include managing more than 1,000 employees, working with the office’s three labor organizations and making tough financial decisions.

“One of things that we’ve done in the District Attorney’s Office is to downsize the budget, to bring everybody to the table, to create a team that can inspire and bring people together,” Dumanis continued.

That statement grabbed my attention because I’ve closely followed the office’s budget and recalled it growing in recent years — not shrinking.

I decided to check out the office’s adopted budget over the last decade and create the graphic below to illustrate my findings. Though voters first elected Dumanis in 2002, her first budget at the District Attorney’s Office was for the 2004 fiscal year.

Under Dumanis, the office’s annual budget consistently grew and reached a peak of $158 million. In 2010, the county cut Dumanis’ budget for the first and only time to date.

Since that 6 percent cut, the office’s budget has nearly bounced back to its peak. The current budget is $155 million — about 58 percent higher than Dumanis’ first budget. When adjusted for inflation, the budget has increased by 29 percent over Dumanis’ tenure.

At the forum, Dumanis didn’t specify when her budget shrank.

When asked about the statement, campaign spokesman Kevin Klein said Dumanis meant to describe a decline in the budget from 2009 to 2011, and a decline in staffing during the same period.

Though the word “downsize” often refers to reduced staffing, Dumanis used it at the forum to specifically describe how the budget had decreased.

During the period Klein says Dumanis meant to describe, the budget fell by about $7 million and actual staffing fell by 41 employees, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The number of budgeted positions, another staffing metric often cited by government officials, fell by one.

Our definition of Barely True says the statement contains an element of truth but critical context is absent that can significantly alter its impression.

In this case, there is an element of truth — the budget has shrunk at one point and is down from its peak. But the peak is an arbitrary point. When you zoom out, her budget has grown by nearly one-third over her tenure despite the economic downturn (even when adjusted for inflation).

Ultimately, the statement’s lack of context allowed enough room for people to walk away with a significantly different impression. Had you attended the forum, there is no way you would’ve known the budget has only declined once in the past decade and grown twice since.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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