Shrinking County Workers: Fact Check - Voice of San Diego

Fact Check UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Shrinking County Workers: Fact Check

Statement: “The county has fewer employees
today than we had in 1995,” county Supervisor Ron Roberts said Feb.
6 on KPBS. Determination: Mostly True.

 

Image: mostly trueStatement: “The county has fewer employees today than we had in 1995,” county Supervisor Ron Roberts said Feb. 6 on KPBS.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Roberts appeared on KPBS earlier this month and seemed to spend more time blasting state government than talking about the county’s own efforts.

Asked to describe the county’s challenges this year, Roberts blamed the state for pushing its financial problems onto the back of local government. He decried the elimination of redevelopment and the state underfunding prison realignment.

“State government is very broken and they’re not addressing the issues,” Roberts said on KPBS. “We’re all seeing a decrease in property taxes and sales taxes. It’s only at the state that they say we don’t know how to solve our problems so we’ll transfer them down.”

Roberts’ advice? He suggested the state operate more like San Diego County. He touted the county’s insistence to budget future maintenance into a project’s estimated cost and the county’s push against backfilling state-mandated services with local funds. Then, before the interview ended, Roberts added one more comparison:

Just as an index, I’d say look at the number of state employees today. Compare that to what was there 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and imagine that the county has fewer employees today than we had in 1995. Look at what the state’s numbers are and I think you’ll see a drastically different model.

I accepted Roberts’ test. He cited reductions in the county’s workforce to push for reforming state government and to boost his own financial credentials. It merited a Fact Check.

The snapshot he cited also interested me because it would illustrate how the county has changed under the current supervisors. Voters have elected all five since the mid-1990s and three seats are up for election this year.

Annual budget documents back up Roberts’ description, showing the county had about 17,400 workers in 1995 — 10 percent more than today. In the same timeframe, the state’s workforce grew by 33 percent to about 357,000.

But that’s not the only interesting difference. Though the county’s workforce shrunk and the state’s grew, the county’s annual budget has expanded by a substantially greater margin over the period.

Adjusted for inflation, the county’s budget grew by 56 percent to $4.1 billion while the state’s budget grew by 38 percent to $85 billion. So despite having fewer employees, as illustrated below, the growth of county spending has outpaced the state.

Our definition for Mostly True says the statement is accurate but contains an important nuance. We felt it fit Roberts’ statement because he correctly contrasted how the workforces have changed, but a comparison of actual spending shows that county spending on a whole has actually grown more rapidly than state spending.

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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