California has experienced major budget difficulties in recent years. After a period of high growth in revenues and expenditures in the late 1990s, state tax revenues plunged in 2001 and the budget fell badly out of balance. Although policymakers reduced program spending and increased revenues to deal with part of the shortfalls, the state has also carried over large deficits and engaged in a significant amount of borrowing. The state budget faces another major shortfall in 2004-05 and it has a variety of other obligations—such as deferrals and loans from special funds—that are outstanding at this time.
There are several budget- and debt-related provisions in California’s Constitution that are affected by this proposition.
Balanced Budget Requirement. The Constitution requires the Governor to submit by January 10 of each year a state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year (beginning on July 1) which is balanced—meaning that estimated revenues must meet or exceed proposed expenditures. While this balanced budget requirement applies to the Governor’s January budget submission, it does not apply to the budget ultimately passed by the Legislature or signed by the Governor.
Mid-Year Budget Adjustments. The Legislature has met in special session during the past three years to consider mid-year proposals to address budget shortfalls. However, there is no formal process in the Constitution to require that mid-year corrective actions be taken when the budget falls out of balance.
Requirement. Reserve funds are typically used to cushion against
unexpected budget shortfalls.
The Constitution requires that the Legislature establish a prudent
state reserve fund. It does not, however, specify the size of the reserve,
or the conditions under which funds are placed into the reserve.
Debt-Related Provisions. The Constitution generally requires voter approval for debt backed by the state’s general taxing authority. Over the years, courts have ruled that certain types of borrowing (including short-term borrowing to cover cash shortfalls and some bonds repaid from specific revenue sources) can occur without voter approval. The Constitution also requires that bonds submitted to the voters for approval be for a “single object or work” as specified in the respective bond act. For example, in past years, voters have been asked to authorize bonds for such single objects as education facilities, water projects, or prison construction.
This proposition amends the Constitution, making changes related to (1) the enactment and maintenance of a balanced state budget, (2) the establishment of specific reserve requirements, and (3) a restriction on future deficit-related borrowing. The provisions are discussed in more detail below.
This proposition requires that the state adopt a balanced budget and provides for mid-year adjustments in the event that the budget falls out of balance.
Balanced Budget. In addition to the existing requirement that the Governor propose a balanced budget, this measure requires that the state enact a budget that is balanced. Specifically, estimated revenues would have to meet or exceed estimated expenditures in each year.
Mid-Year Adjustments. Under this measure, if the Governor determines that the state is facing substantial revenue shortfalls or spending deficiencies, the Governor may declare a fiscal emergency. He or she would then be required to propose legislation to address the problem, and call the Legislature into special session for that purpose. If the Legislature fails to pass and send to the Governor legislation to address the budget problem within 45 days, it would be prohibited from (1) acting on any other bills or (2) adjourning in joint recess until such legislation is passed.
The proposal requires that a special reserve—called the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA)—be established in the state’s General Fund.
Annual Transfers. A portion of estimated annual General Fund revenues would be transferred by the State Controller into the account no later than September 30 of each fiscal year. The specific transfers are 1 percent (about $850 million) in 2006-07, 2 percent (about $1.8 billion) in 2007-08, and 3 percent (about $2.9 billion) in 2008-09 and thereafter. These transfers would continue until the balance in the account reaches $8 billion or 5 percent of General Fund revenues, whichever is greater. The annual transfer requirement would be in effect whenever the balance falls below the $8 billion or 5 percent target. (Given the current level of General Fund revenues—approximately $75 billion—the required reserve level would likely be $8 billion for at least the next decade.)
Suspension of Transfers. The annual transfers could be suspended or reduced for a fiscal year by an executive order issued by the Governor no later than June 1 of the preceding fiscal year.
Allocation of Funds. Each year, 50 percent of the annual transfers into the BSA would be allocated to a subaccount that is dedicated to repayment of the deficit-recovery bond authorized by Proposition 57. These transfers would be made until they reach a cumulative total of $5 billion. Funds from this subaccount would be automatically spent for debt service on that bond. The remaining funds in the BSA would be available for transfer to the General Fund.
Spending From the Account. Funds in the BSA could be transferred from this account to the General Fund through a majority vote of the Legislature and approval of the Governor. Spending of these monies from the General Fund could be made for various purposes—including to cover budget shortfalls—generally with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature (same as current law).
Related Provisions in Proposition 56. Proposition 56 on this ballot also contains new, but different, requirements related to a state reserve fund.
Subsequent to the issuance of the bonds authorized in Proposition 57, this proposal would prohibit most future borrowing to cover budget deficits. This restriction applies to general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, and certain other forms of long-term borrowing. The restriction does not apply to certain other types of borrowing, such as (1) short-term borrowing to cover cash shortfalls in the General Fund (including revenue anticipation notes or revenue anticipation warrants currently used by the state), or (2) borrowing between state funds.
This measure also states that:
With regard to the bond authorized by Proposition 57, the “single object or work” for which the Legislature may create debt includes—for that measure only—the one-time funding of the accumulated state budget deficit and other obligations, as determined by the Director of Finance.
Its provisions take effect only if Proposition 57 on this ballot is also approved by the voters.
This measure could have a variety of fiscal effects, depending on future budget circumstances and future actions taken by Governors and Legislatures. Possible fiscal effects include:
Balanced Budget and Debt Provisions. In recent years, as well as during difficult budget periods in the past, the Governor and Legislature have at times allowed accumulated budget deficits to carry over from one year to the next. This meant that spending reductions and/or revenue increases were less than what they otherwise would have been in those years. The provisions of this measure requiring a balanced budget and restricting borrowing would limit the state’s future use of this option. As a result, the state would in some cases have to take more immediate actions to correct budgetary shortfalls.
Reserve Requirement. The $8 billion reserve target established by this proposition is much larger than the amounts included in past budget plans. This larger reserve could be used to smooth state spending over the course of an economic cycle. That is, spending could be less during economic expansions (as a portion of the annual revenues are transferred into the reserve), and more during downturns (as the funds available in the reserve are used to “cushion” spending reductions that would otherwise be necessary).
Possible Impacts. The proposition could have a variety of other
impacts on state finances. For example, to the extent that the measure
resulted in more balanced budgets and less borrowing over time, the state
would benefit financially from higher credit ratings and lower debt-service
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