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By W. Gardner Selby June 11, 2011

Randi Shade says Kathie Tovo believes Austin invests too much in cops, firefighters and paramedics

Randi Shade, the Austin City Council member in a June 18 runoff, says in a mailer sent voters after the May general election that her challenger, Kathie Tovo, "believes that Austin invests too much in the cops, firefighters and paramedics that protect our families and neighborhoods."

In the mailer, Shade traces her characterization to Tovo’s answer on a questionnaire presented to candidates by the Austin Neighborhoods Council.

Asked if the city's public safety contracts "put an undue burden on the city budget," Tovo replied: "Yes, Austin’s public safety budget makes up more than 65 percent of the general fund. The continuing growth of (the) public safety budget is limiting the ability of the city to deliver other services that are important to maintaining a high quality of life. Escalating public safety contracts are financially unsustainable and must be addressed for the long-term health of the city."

We can’t divine what anyone believes. For this fact check, we looked into positions Tovo has taken in her campaign. Specifically, we wondered if her criticism of escalating public-safety contracts as "unsustainable" amounts to saying the city spends too much on its police officers, firefighters and the like.

We asked Tovo’s campaign to elaborate and also reviewed news accounts on her position on public safety spending.

On May 19, Austin’s KVUE-TV quoted Tovo saying: "I am very supportive of public safety, fire, and EMS."

A May 20 Austin American-Statesman news story quoted Tovo saying she would look for ways to reduce waste in all city departments but would not cut the number of police, firefighters or paramedics. "If we can save money in other ways, we can have more (public safety employees) on the street," she said.

And in an interview by the Austin Chronicle, posted online June 3, Tovo said she favors "safe and secure neighborhoods, and so a big part of that is making sure we have police and EMS and firefighters out on the streets. I certainly don't support making cuts to those."

By email, Tovo spokesman Jim Wick said Tovo’s response to the questionnaire was "intended to address the growing gap in the (city’s) general fund between spending on public safety contracts and spending on everything else. With the way the public safety contracts are structured right now, the spending is unsustainable without either cutting spending or raising taxes," Wick said.

Wick noted that City Council Member Bill Spelman was quoted in a Sept. 19, 2010, Austin Chronicle story saying that adjusted for inflation, per-resident public safety spending had increased nearly 50 percent since 2000, while spending from the general fund on every other part of the budget increased 2 percent. Spelman is also quoted saying: "We've taken all the new money we've gotten from property taxes, sales taxes, and what have you, and put it all into public safety. And none of it into parks, libraries, health and human services, development services, and so on."

Wick said in an interview that Tovo’s questionnaire answer speaks to "the future, not the present" and  "there is no place anywhere" that Tovo has said she’d cut public-safety jobs. Tovo says in a more recent campaign mailer: "I will not cut police, paramedics or firefighters."

So, Tovo seeks to corral public-safety contracts, but would not cut police, paramedics or firefighter jobs. That’s like having it both ways. Then again, by basing her claim solely on Tovo’s questionnaire, Shade ignores her opponent’s subsequent comments.

We rate Shade’s statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Austin American-Statesman, news article, "Council Member Randi Shade says she's ready for Place 3 runoff," May 20, 2011

The Austin Chronicle, news articles, "'Completing Communities,' A conversation with Kathie Tovo," June 3, 2011; "City Hall Hustle: Everybody Makes Do With Less ... Except APD," Sept. 19, 2010

KVUE-TV, Austin, news post, "Shade to stay in Place 3 runoff," May 19, 2011
Telephone interview and email (excerpted), Jim Wick, deputy campaign manager, Kathie Tovo campaign, June 7 and 8, 2011

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