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Strong Tax Collections Belie California's Challenging Fiscal Outlook

April 26, 2022 - Given the persistent strength in state tax collections, it may come as a surprise that California’s General Fund likely faces a budget problem in the coming years. Yet this is the key takeaway from a recent fiscal analysis of 10,000 possible revenue scenarios conducted by our office. In 95 percent of our simulations, the state encountered a budget problem by 2025-26. Notably, the likelihood of a budget problem largely is impervious to the future trajectory of state tax revenues. That is, whether revenues trend upward or downward from here, the state likely faces budget deficits. The central implication of our findings is stark and suggests that in the interest of fiscal resilience, the Legislature should consider rejecting a substantial portion of the Governor’s January spending proposals.

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Despite Fiscal Forecasting Uncertainties, Multiyear Budget Planning Essential

May 27, 2021 - Our office recently released its multiyear budget outlook based on our evaluation of the Governor’s May Revision budget proposal. An important element of this annual exercise is our independent estimate of the total cost of the Governor’s May Revision budget proposals for several years into the future. A key finding from our analysis this year is that the Governor’s ongoing spending proposals are probably too high relative to his administration’s revenue projections. This manifests in operating deficits that persist through the outlook horizon (2024‑25). Adopting a budget with this combination of assumptions is inadvisable in our view. One reason is that—given the state’s balanced-budget requirement—doing so requires assuming that the multiyear budget projections are wrong. To appreciate why this is problematic, it is useful to revisit some of the reasons for doing multiyear fiscal forecasting in the first place.

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A Framework for Allocating Federal Recovery Funds

May 4, 2021 - In the coming months, the Legislature will face important decisions over how to use California’s share of the state fiscal recovery funds included in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Estimated at approximately $26 billion, the recovery funds should go a long way toward covering the state’s direct and indirect costs arising from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Moreover, beyond a relatively broad set of pandemic-related parameters, the ARP likely provides states with considerable flexibility over how to allocate the funds, presenting the Legislature with a unique opportunity. In this post, we lay out some guiding principles for the Legislature to consider as it formulates a plan for using the fiscal recovery funds.

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With New Deficits Looming, California Will Weigh its Options for Allocating a Large Revenue Windfall

December 1, 2020 - In this Fiscal Perspectives post, the Legislative Analyst reflects on the key findings reported in the office's 2021-22 Fiscal Outlook.

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COVID-19 and California’s Evolving Fiscal Outlook

March 18, 2020 - In this installment of Fiscal Perspectives, Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek offers some initial observations on the recent volatility in financial markets, palpably sharp reduction in economic activity, and the state’s fiscal position at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Taking Stock of California’s Recession Readiness

February 12, 2020 - In this installment of Fiscal Perspectives, Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek discusses why, even with high budget reserve balances, it is prudent for the Legislature to continue assessing and strengthening the state’s fiscal capacity. The post also discusses how maintaining an operating surplus in the state’s multiyear budget plan can supplement reserves as an instrument of fiscal resilience. Petek makes the case that there is a particularly strong argument for doing so in the context of a mature economic expansion.

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Tempered Expectations

December 9, 2019 - Under the baseline scenario in our recently released report The 2020-21 Budget: California's Fiscal Outlook, we estimate California's General Fund is on track for a $7 billion surplus in 2020-21, with around $3 billion available for new, ongoing commitments. Additionally, we estimate the state's rainy day fund will grow to $18.3 by the end of 2020-21. Despite these large estimated surpluses and reserves, our central recommendation to the Legislature is to limit its new, ongoing spending commitments to approximately $1 billion or less in the 2020-21 budget. In this new installment of Fiscal Perspectives, Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek provides additional context for understanding the importance of limiting new, ongoing spending in the coming budget, with a short discussion of the state's fiscal structure, the state's economic backdrop, and other potential risks and uncertainties.

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The Quiet Transformation in California’s Cash Management

August 29, 2019 - In this Fiscal Perspective, Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek writes about how the building of large budget reserve balances has quietly transformed California’s cash management in recent years.

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Amid Good Fiscal Times, Planning for the Future Is Crucial

May 21, 2019 - Through the adoption of countercyclical fiscal policies, California is better able to navigate the business cycle within the constraints of its constitutional balanced budget requirement. The idea here is that in good times—when revenues are strong—the state spends somewhat below its capacity, sequestering the difference in reserves. Later, when the economy and tax receipts weaken, the state can draw upon its accumulated savings to fund a spending level above what revenues would otherwise support. Exercising spending restraint during good times promotes fiscal sustainability and dampens the need for austerity in subsequent recessions, thus, facilitating policy stability. The more robust California’s countercyclical fiscal policies are, the more the state can avoid boom-and-bust budgeting, which most policymakers view as anathema.

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An Extraordinary Moment in California's Fiscal History

April 11, 2019 - In this Fiscal Perspective post, the Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek explains how and why—given the macroeconomic landscape—the Legislature may want to consider building larger reserves than what the governor proposed.