Statement: “In fact, the safety services budget went up as the City Council cut other parts of the budget,” former San Diego mayor and current radio host Roger Hedgecock wrote in a column published June 27 by U-T San Diego.
Determination: Mostly True
Analysis: Gov. Jerry Brown wants voters this November to temporarily increase taxes on sales and the state’s highest-income earners. The estimated $6.9 billion ballot initiative is billed as an effort to save schools and public safety from further budget cuts.
In an editorial last week, Hedgecock urged voters to disregard the governor’s warning of additional cuts and reject any tax hikes. He suggested Brown was bluffing — that state lawmakers wouldn’t actually slash funding for schools and public safety.
And to back up his argument, Hedgecock described similar rhetoric from proponents of a San Diego tax initiative two years ago. Back then, Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Council members and employee unions predicted drastic cuts to police and firefighters without more funding. But after the initiative failed, the promised big cuts didn’t happen.
“Following the defeat, not one police officer or firefighter was fired,” Hedgecock wrote. “In fact, the safety services budget went up as the City Council cut other parts of the budget.”
We decided to Fact Check how the budget changed following the election, because Hedgecock cited the shifts in an effort to bolster his position. The tax initiative was a major topic of public discussion during the November 2010 election and we wanted to figure out what’s happened since then. Did the budget ax ever fall?
San Diego’s “safety services budget” typically refers to funding for the Police Department, Fire-Rescue Department and the Office of Homeland Security. Together, the city spent $586 million on them at the time of the November 2010 election.
And the year after the election? Well, budget documents support Hedgecock’s description of the shift. The combined funding for public safety departments grew by 1 percent to about $593 million while several other departments’ funding declined.
Public safety funding mainly grew because the City Council restored eight fire engines that had been shelved and began paying more overtime to firefighters. The cuts had slowed response times and in one instance, delayed crews from helping a choking 2-year-old boy in Mira Mesa who later died.
Restoring the fire engines increased the Fire-Rescue Department’s annual budget by about $11 million. That alone was enough of an increase to offset $2 million cut from the Police Department’s annual budget. Funding for Homeland Security, which oversees federal grants, also grew slightly.
The final section of Hedgecock’s statement is more nuanced. He portrayed a stark contrast between funding for public safety and other departments. But in most cases, they didn’t go in opposite directions. Funding for public safety as well as most city departments went up after the election.
The budget shrunk for information technology, some public works functions, trash collection, planning and a few administrative offices like personnel. Overall, spending on non-public safety departments grew by about 8 percent.
Our definition for Mostly True says the statement is accurate but contains an important nuance to consider. Hedgecock accurately described how the budget for public safety functions increased and how the budget for some areas decreased, but the statement didn’t provide an overall picture. Spending on public safety actually grew by a smaller degree than most departments.
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