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Revisiting the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Insolvency

September 30, 2016 - Due to a variety of factors, the state's Unemployment Insurance (UI) trust fund exhausted its reserves in 2009, requiring the state to take on loans to continue the payment of benefits to unemployed workers. In this series of four online posts, we (1) examine the current condition of the UI trust fund and how it may change in the near future, (2) provide context on who pays UI taxes and how much they pay, (3) assess the extent to which the UI trust fund is prepared for the next economic downturn, and (4) look at potential steps the Legislature could take should it wish to increase reserves in the trust fund as a means to address the fiscal impacts of the next economic downturn.

Update 6/13/17:
Post 1 updated to reflect estimates in the 2017-18 May Revision.

Update 1/20/17:
Post 1 updated to reflect estimates in the 2017-18 Governor's Budget.

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Road Charge Pilot Program Update

September 15, 2016 - In 2014, legislation was enacted that requires the California State Transportation Agency to conduct a road charge pilot program to study the feasibility of charging individuals for each mile they drive as an alternative to fuel taxes. The road charge pilot program officially began in July 2016 and will continue through March 2017. In this post, we provide an update on the pilot program.

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How Did California Schools Spend Common Core Implementation Funding?

June 10, 2016 - The 2013-14 state budget package included $1.25 billion in Proposition 98 funding for schools to implement the new Common Core State Standards in English and math. State law allowed schools to use the funds in three areas associated with Common Core implementation: (1) information technology, (2) staff development, and (3) instructional materials. State law required the California Department of Education to report expenditure data to the Legislature by January 1, 2016. In this post, we summarize schools’ expenditures based on that report.

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Sheriff Court-Security Services Mandate

May 27, 2016 - State law tasks the Commission on State Mandates with determining whether new state laws or regulations affecting local governments create state-reimbursable mandates. Typically, the process for determining whether a law or regulation is a state-reimbursable mandate takes several years. State law further requires our office to analyze any new mandates identified by the commission as part of our annual analysis of the proposed state budget. In particular, state law directs our office to report on the annual state costs for new mandates and make recommendations to the Legislature as to whether the new mandates should be repealed, funded, suspended, or modified. In this budget post, we discuss the Sheriff Court-Security Services mandate.

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LAO Multiyear State Budget Outlook

May 20, 2016 - This online post is our office’s multiyear outlook for California’s General Fund through 2019-20 based on current state law and policies, as modified by the Governor’s May Revision proposals. This is part of our response to the Governor’s 2016-17 May Revision. Our outlook estimates the state will end 2016-17 with $8.7 billion in total reserves. Over our outlook period, and assuming continued economic growth, we estimate the state’s budget has the capacity to pay for the Governor’s May Revision proposals over the period. After 2016-17, the state would have a few billion dollars available each year to build reserves or make additional commitments. Despite these budgetary surpluses, compared to other recent similar analyses, our outlook shows much smaller budget surpluses. Surpluses have declined largely as a result of new spending commitments by the state, including the increased state minimum wage. As a result, the state’s budget is now more vulnerable to a future economic downturn than it was last year. For this reason, we suggest the Legislature aim to pass a state budget with a robust level of total reserves this year.

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Considering Changes to Streamline Local Housing Approvals

May 17, 2016 - The Governor’s May Revision proposes changes to state law to streamline local government approval of certain housing. This proposal has the potential to be an important step toward addressing California’s housing shortage. We believe it warrants serious consideration from the Legislature. We also suggest the Legislature consider expanding eligibility for streamlining to facilitate more new housing, as well as making other changes to strengthen the proposal’s effectiveness.

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Proposed Reserves in the Governor’s May Revision

May 17, 2016 - In the May Revision, the Governor proposes ending 2016-17 with $8.5 billion in total state General Fund reserves. This total reserve level is down $1.7 billion from January, but still represents an increase of about $4 billion over the level assumed in the 2015-16 budget plan. This online post provides more details about the breakdown of these funds in the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) and Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties (SFEU).

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Addressing California’s Convenience Zone Recycling Center Closures

May 16, 2016 - Since January 1, 2016, about 330 (or about 15 percent of all) “convenience zone” (CZ) recycling centers—those generally located within a half mile of supermarkets—have closed. CZ recycling centers are an important part of the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Program (BCRP). They provide a convenient location for consumers to recycle beverage containers and have their deposit—the California Redemption Value, or “CRV”—repaid. The closure of so many CZ recycling centers is problematic because it reduces consumers’ ability to easily redeem their containers. This post examines the causes of these closures. It also provides some options that the Legislature could consider to help prevent additional closures, including statutory changes to recycler payments from the state and elimination of some recycler requirements.

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The 2016-17 Budget: Initial Comments on the Governor’s May Revision

May 15, 2016 - In the May Revision, the Governor proposes ending 2016-17 with $8.5 billion in total state General Fund reserves. This level of reserves is about $1.7 billion lower than the level proposed by the Governor in January, which largely reflects a downward revision in revenue estimates since then, as well as increased required spending on K-14 education. Nevertheless, estimated tax revenues continue to exceed proposed spending in 2016-17, which would facilitate total reserves ending 2016-17 at $4 billion above the level assumed in the state's 2015-16 budget plan. Since January, the state has made budgetary commitments that represent substantial new ongoing costs for the state. These include: (1) an increase in the statewide minimum wage, (2) augmentations for health and human service programs, and (3) increased costs associated with new collective bargaining agreements. These commitments, along with the lower estimates of revenues and reserves, mean there is now less capacity than there was in January for additional budgetary commitments. Given these developments, and at this point in a mature economic expansion, we think it would be prudent to pursue a target for total reserves that is at least as large as the $8.5 billion amount in the Governor’s revised budget.

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Challenges in Reviewing Recently Released $400 Million Deferred Maintenance Project List

May 11, 2016 - On April 29, the administration released its initial draft list of $400 million in deferred maintenance projects proposed for funding as part of the Governor’s 2016-17 budget. In this post, we summarize the draft list of projects. Also, given that there are only a few weeks remaining before the constitutionally-required June 15th deadline for the Legislature to adopt a state budget for 2016-17, we suggest that the Legislature may want to prioritize its review of the administration’s draft list. Furthermore, in the future, we recommend that the administration provide the Legislature with (1) information about its long-term plan for addressing the state’s deferred maintenance backlog and (2) more detailed information on proposed projects earlier in the budget process.

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Administration’s Cap-and-Trade Report Provides New Information, Raises Issues For Consideration

April 15, 2016 - In March, the administration released its annual report on cap-and-trade spending outcomes. In this post, we summarize the information included in the report and, based on our review of the information, identify issues for legislative consideration.

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The 2016-17 Budget: Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act Resources

March 25, 2016 - This post addresses the Governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal related to the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). The post provides background on PAGA, describes and assesses the Governor’s proposal, and outlines our recommendations for the Legislature’s consideration. Specifically, we recommend that the Legislature approve requested funding and positions and adopt portions of proposed trailer bill language that require additional information on PAGA proceedings be provided to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. We recommend that the Legislature reject remaining proposed trailer bill language in favor of consideration in a separate policy bill process.

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The 2016-17 Budget: Precision Medicine Research Funding

March 18, 2016 - Precision medicine is a developing approach in the health sector that takes into account an individual’s genes, environment, and lifestyle for disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. The 2016-17 Governor’s Budget proposes to make a one-time appropriation of $10 million from the state General Fund to OPR to fund precision medicine research. We find that the Governor’s proposal lacks key details and a clear justification. In the absence of this information, we recommend the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposal.

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The 2016-17 Budget: Local Government Mandates--Reasonable Reimbursement Methodology

March 17, 2016 - Through a complex, often convoluted, process that has engendered much discussion and disagreement over the years, the state must reimburse local governments for their activities to implement certain state mandates. State law requires the Commission on State Mandates (CSM) to determine whether new state laws, executive orders, or regulations affecting local governments create state-reimbursable mandates. Generally, local governments may submit claims for state mandate payment based on one of two methods: (1) claiming of actual costs or (2) a reasonable reimbursement methodology (RRM). A budget trailer bill proposal from the administration would change the requirements for developing an RRM. We recommend the Legislature reject this proposal and perhaps consider targeted alternatives.

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The 2016-17 Budget: Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)

March 1, 2016 - We are uncertain if the administration’s budget proposals will provide the Public Employment Relations Board the resources it needs to address the existing backlog in processing cases. We recommend that the Legislature (1) determine how fast cases should be addressed by the board and then (2) ask PERB and affected groups questions in order to understand what level of funding and staffing is necessary to process cases within the desired amount of time.