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January 13, 2020 - This report presents our office’s initial assessment of the Governor’s budget. We estimate the Governor had a $6 billion surplus to allocate to discretionary purposes in 2020-21. The Governor allocates most of the surplus toward one-time purposes, including maintaining a positive year-end balance in the state’s discretionary reserve. Under the administration’s estimates, total reserves would reach $20.5 billion at the end of 2020-21—this represents a $1.7 billion increase from the 2019-20 enacted level. California continues to enjoy a healthy fiscal situation. Despite its positive near-term picture, the budget’s multiyear outlook is subject to considerable uncertainty. In addition to describing the condition of the budget under the Governor’s proposal, this report discusses tools the Legislature can use to mitigate against these heightened risks.
January 20, 2020: Upon further review, one item included in the original version of Appendix Figure 3 on discretionary on health spending should not have been included (specfically, use of the Medi-Cal drug rebate fund to offset General Fund costs). Removing this item—which reduces General Fund spending—from the list of discretionary choices made in the Governor’s budget increases our calculation of the surplus to $6 billion. The document is updated to reflect these changes.
Update 1/24/20: Adjusted Judicial Branch items in Appendix Figure 1 to reflect ongoing spending.
December 17, 2019 - In November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the nonmedical use of cannabis (typically called recreational or adult use) and created a structure for regulating and taxing it. In this report we provide (1) background information on cannabis and its legalization in California, (2) a discussion of the effects of adjusting the tax rate, (3) an assessment of other potential changes to California’s cannabis tax structure, and (4) recommendations for the Legislature.
December 17, 2019 - In this post, we discuss a key interaction between sales taxes and other taxes on cannabis retailers—in particular, local business taxes. Due to this opaque, counterintuitive interaction, the overall tax rate on cannabis is slightly higher than it appears to be. We recommend that the Legislature make statutory changes to address this issue.
December 17, 2019 - In this post, we describe some of the similarities and differences between taxes on cannabis and taxes on other products in California. Our estimates suggest that taxes on certain cannabis products are roughly comparable to taxes on distilled spirits but much higher than taxes on beer and wine. California’s state and local governments generally tax cannabis—including medical cannabis—more heavily than other medicines. In some instances, however, exemptions can make tax rates on medical cannabis comparable to tax rates on other medicines.
October 17, 2019 - This post describes the 2019-20 budget actions changing state individual and business tax provisions (partial tax conformity).
October 17, 2019 - This post describes the 2019-20 budget actions to expand the state earned income tax credit (EITC).
September 5, 2019 - California is the wealthiest state in the nation. Despite this overall prosperity, wealth varies considerably across the state and its residents. The concentration of wealth among a small number of very wealthy individuals and households has been the topic of much research and commentary in recent years. Perhaps less discussed is the similarly uneven geographical distribution of wealth. This publication provides a short introduction to the geography of wealth in California.
September 3, 2019 - Similar to the state’s budget situation, the state’s cash situation is now very positive. However, this has not always been—nor will it always be—the case. This report includes a history of the state's cash management situation, in particular emphasizing why the state’s cash position has improved so much. This report goes on to describe some recent and novel actions to borrow from the state's cash resources and offers policymakers a framework to evaluate any future borrowing of this nature, should a proposal to do so arise. Given that the state's cash position will inevitably change in the future, we suggest the Legislature be cautious about approving additional proposals to make loans from the state's cash resources. Assessing a proposed loan using the criteria in this report may help determine whether its benefits exceed its costs.
June 4, 2019 - Presented to: Budget Conference Committee
June 4, 2019 - Presented to: Budget Conference Committee
May 12, 2019 - In the May Revision, the Governor has proposed two new sales tax exemptions that would go into effect on January 1, 2020 and expire on December 31, 2021: one for menstrual products and another for children’s diapers. These exemptions would apply to the full amount of the state and local sales tax. The Governor’s proposal would require our office to submit reports evaluating these exemptions by January 1, 2021.
May 11, 2019 - The Governor proposes to allow state tax benefits for investments in alternative energy or affordable housing in communities designated as Opportunity Zones under a new federal program. Given the mixed evidence regarding the benefits of similar policies and the existence of better mechanisms to fund affordable housing, we recommend rejecting the Governor’s proposal to create a state Opportunity Zone tax benefit.
April 11, 2019 - Presented to Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Subcommittee 4 on State Administration and General Government
March 6, 2019 - The state adopted an EITC in 2015 and expanded it in 2017 and 2018. The Governor proposes another expansion starting in 2019 that would (1) extend the income eligibility range to $30,000, (2) increase the credit amount for workers with dependents under age six, and (3) increase the credit amount for workers with earnings at the higher end of the current eligibility range. This report evaluates the Governor’s proposal, discusses potential alternative approaches, and examines implementation issues and options for providing credits on a monthly basis.
March 6, 2019 - The 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made significant changes to federal tax laws. Generally, the federal tax changes reduced tax rates and broadened the tax base (what is subject to tax). Because the state’s income tax laws closely refer to large portions of federal law, many of those changes created new differences between federal and state taxes. State law currently does not adopt—or conform to—any of the federal changes made in 2017. This report assesses the arguments for and against conforming to ten of those major changes. (Five of these conformity provisions are included in the Governor's proposal.)