With all the talk about the property tax and who pays more, residential or commercial property owners, there is a more basic issue that is missed: Where does the money go? In the case of the income tax, we know which government gets the money: the state. But from the property taxpayer’s perspective, it is […]
The topic of conversation, lately, no matter who you’re talking to, seems to revolve around California’s budget nightmare and the trickle-down effect it has, starting from the top, the state, to the bottom, with municipalities. How did we get here and what drastic measures need to be taken in order to get our Golden State […]
As the press peels back the onion on the issue of budgeting practices and special funds, it is important to see why this is a contemporary problem and why it has not been the focus of anyone’s attention Conventional wisdom Our state budgeting practices have not changed since the 1970s. The state’s fiscal condition has always […]
The good old days of secret budgeting are back and the primary victim is a transparent government. There was a time, over forty years ago when the final state budget was written in secret. The final budget deal was hammered out in a secret conference held in the Senate Lounge. The bipartisan group that included […]
Once again the Legislative Analyst has pulled back the curtain on California’s budgeting practices, announcing last week that the state is likely to have a $3 billion deficit at the end of this fiscal year. This means we can expect significant mid-year cuts to education and social services programs under the budget “trigger” mechanism. That […]
It is now up to members of the
California Assembly to decide whether two of California Forward’s important fiscal
reforms will move forward.
Yesterday, the Assembly
Budget Committee approved SB 14
(performance-based budgeting) and SB 15 (multi-year
fiscal forecasting), which will bring a new budgeting system to California that
increases stability, focuses on program results and looks to the future.
In an era when more and more Californians are demanding accountability and transparency in government, our budgeting process has slid back into the cloaked era of the past.
Fifty years ago, the California budget was put together in a back room. Those in attendance included the Department of Finance representing the Governor; the budget committee chairs and vices chairs representing the legislative leadership; and the legislative analyst. The budget they created was then handed the legislature for approval and finally sent to the governor. These budgets usually garnered 2/3 of the legislative vote, and nobody knew what deals went into the process until after the governor signed the budget in question.
In the early 1970’s, a group of lawmakers revolted and pushed for a more open process. This led to more transparent and later televised legislative discussions that included the administration and legislative analyst.
When California Controller John Chiang decided on Tuesday that
legislators would not be paid, he did so by connecting two provisions in the
Constitution – one approved in 2004 (Proposition 58) that required budgets
to be balanced – and the other approved
last year (Proposition 25) that prohibited legislative pay if the budget
is not passed by June 15.
Many lawmakers have taken issue with the controller’s decision,
and some have threatened to sue to get their pay reinstated.
The dispute over what constitutes "fiscal balance" has been with
us for a long time, even before Prop 58. California’s state budgeting
process has always been based on an agreement between the legislature
and the governor about what fiscal balance means in a given year, with the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) providing commentary.
That LAO commentary often deals with identifying
"threats" to fiscal health – sometimes through the courts – and the
ability of the administration to achieve savings in the adopted budget.
budget plan introduced by Governor Brown on Monday includes major pieces of the
fiscal puzzle that at long last will hopefully bring fiscal balance back to California.
budget plans purporting to close the state’s widening deficits, this one
actually proposes long-term structural changes to bring California out of its
fiscal hole. One big difference is the budget proposed by Governor Brown does
not rely on one-time spending reductions or gimmicks. It seeks to permanently
change the makeup and extent of state spending to balance revenues and
expenditures. It is important to recognize that the plan anticipates extending
temporary revenue increases to get important state services – such as education
and health and human services – through an economic condition that is
improving, but not quickly enough.
Word from the state Legislative Analyst on Wednesday is that the budget
is scarier than we thought. But Governor-elect
Jerry Brown is determined to tame the budget beast.
Brown discussed the issues and his plans at a special meeting of
legislators and local officials. It was
clear that the once and future Governor grasps the enormity of the problem, as
he outlined the most important themes:
- The last three annual budgets were passed with
dubious solutions that were predominately one-time in nature, often
with borrowed resources.
- More than 70 percent of the General Fund budget
is managed by schools and counties.
This isn’t a Sacramento problem; it is everyone’s problem.
- Higher education and the prison system are the
primary activities managed by the state.
- The revenue system that supports state spending relies
on the income tax, in particular on upper income people.
- Recovery will take time. There are more threats ahead, and there
are no magic elixirs.
course should the Governor and lawmakers take to get the state out of this mess?