The State Budget Is Done — Time to Start Thinking About … the State Budget

July 10, 2014

In the wake of another on-time state budget, and with the Legislature on a month-long summer break, it would be natural to conclude that Californians won’t hear about — and don’t need to think about — the state budget again until sometime in 2015.

On the contrary: Like the Big Apple, California’s budget process never sleeps, a point highlighted in Dollars and Democracy, our newly updated guide to the rules and practices that shape the development of each year’s state budget package. The always-in-motion character of the state budget process can be seen in the following examples:

  • First, the seeds of each year’s state budget are planted well before January 10 — the constitutional deadline for the Governor to propose a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year (which begins on July 1). Starting each summer and continuing through the fall, the Governor’s proposed budget is developed within the various agencies and departments of the executive branch through a process coordinated by the Department of Finance. While there is no official opportunity for public input at this stage, resourceful Californians can find ways to get their priorities heard — and maybe even adopted — by the Administration as the proposed spending plan is being assembled.
  • Second, far from being set in stone, the “final” budget that is crafted by lawmakers and the Governor following months of hearings and negotiations is likely to change over the course of a fiscal year. This occurs as state policymakers revise spending up or down and add new “trailer” bills to the budget package. For example, in each of the past two years the Legislature has passed a new budget bill — known as “Budget Bill, Jr.” — just a couple of months after the original budget bill was signed into law. The odds are that the budget package signed by Governor Brown a couple of weeks ago will be revised at least once, if not multiple times, in the coming months.

In short, there’s no “off season” as far as the state budget goes. While the January-to-June period gets the most attention, the process of crafting the budget is an ongoing enterprise, giving Californians ample reason to stay engaged and involved year-round.

— Scott Graves

Your Guide to the Requirements for Approving Key Legislative Actions in California

June 4, 2014

Each year, state lawmakers grapple with an array of major public policy issues that are subject to varying requirements for approval. This year, for example, lawmakers are considering whether to extend a tax break for companies that make movies or television series in California, a proposal that needs only a simple majority vote of the Legislature and the Governor’s signature to take effect. In contrast, current proposals to sell general obligation (GO) bonds to finance new dams require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, the Governor’s signature, and voter approval.

For the most part, the rules for approving legislative actions are set forth in California’s lengthy and complex state Constitution. In an effort to help Californians navigate these rules, we’ve put together a simple, easy-to-read table that illustrates the key steps for approving 18 legislative actions, from passing the budget to amending the Constitution itself. This guide shows that more than half of these actions require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, most require the Governor’s signature, and a few need the consent of the voters.

— Scott Graves

Legislature Wraps Up for the Year

September 12, 2011

The Legislature completed its work for the year early Saturday morning, sending several budget-related bills to Governor Brown’s desk, while scuttling the Governor’s last-minute tax deal along with bills that would have modified some of the changes to redevelopment that were enacted earlier this year. Significant bills passed by the Legislature include:

  • SB 202 (Hancock), which moves a state spending cap measure from the June 2012 primary election ballot to the November 2014 general election ballot. The spending cap measure – ACA 4 – was placed on the ballot as part of the October 2010 budget agreement. SB 202 also requires all future initiatives and referenda to be placed on November general election ballots.
  • ABX1 16 (Blumenfield), which makes changes to the “realignment” framework included in the June 2011 budget agreement. The state transferred funding and responsibility for a number of programs and services, including foster care, mental health services, and some criminal justice functions, to the counties in 2011-12.
  • ABX1 17 (Blumenfield), which revises certain provisions of the criminal justice realignment. Under this component of realignment, counties will assume responsibility for “low-level” offenders and parolees – generally defined as those who have committed non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes – beginning on October 1, 2011.
  • ABX1 32 (Blumenfield), which delays a potential $10-per-unit community college fee increase from the winter term to the summer term of the 2012 calendar year. This fee increase is included in a package of $2.5 billion in cuts to a range of state services that would be triggered next year if 2011-12 revenues are estimated to fall below the level assumed in the June 2011 budget agreement.
  • ABX1 21 (Blumenfield), which extends a tax on managed care plans through June 30, 2012. The tax will raise an estimated $207 million in 2011-12, approximately half of which would be used to partially fill a $130 million funding gap in the Healthy Families Program caused by state budget cuts.
  • SB 335 (Hernandez), which extends a fee on hospitals through December 31, 2013. The fee will provide more than $300 million for the Medi-Cal Program in 2011-12.

The Senate rejected the Governor’s last-minute tax deal – ABX1 40 (Fuentes) in the Assembly and SB 116 (De Leon) in the Senate – which would have provided costly new tax breaks at a time when California faces budget gaps into the foreseeable future, as we noted in a blog post last week. Two bills related to redevelopment also failed. ABX1 25 (Blumenfield) would have provided additional flexibility to redevelopment agencies to make annual payments as required by the June 2011 reforms. ABX1 31 (Calderon) would have exempted a single redevelopment project in Whittier from one of the key provisions of the reforms, a change that would have reduced funding for public schools in that area.

— Scott Graves and Hanh Quach