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A History of California’s Budget Reserves


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Building Reserves to Prepare for a Recession

March 7, 2018 - Reserves are of critical importance to the health of the state's budget. These funds help cushion the impact of a budget problem that emerges during a recession. In this report, our office provides an overview of revenue losses that have occurred in past recessions to consider the magnitude of a budget problem that could emerge in the future. Then, we describe the Governor's reserve proposal for 2018-19 and compare this level to past reserves and other states. Next, to aid the Legislature as it evaluates the Governor’s proposal, we present a framework that the Legislature can use to plan for a recession and determine a target level of reserves. Finally, we conclude with our office’s comments on the Governor’s proposed level of reserves in light of this framework and present some alternatives for legislative consideration.

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Update on State and School District Reserves

April 5, 2020 - As the public health crisis related to COVID-19 has unfolded, the possibility of the state facing a budget problem seems increasingly likely. One key tool to address a budget problem is budget reserves. This post assesses the current reserve situation of the state and school districts—whose funding largely depends on the state.

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[PDF] The 2016-17 Budget: The Governor’s Reserve Proposal

February 19, 2016 - In this publication, we summarize the administration’s estimate for constitutionally required reserve deposits in this year’s budget process. We then analyze the administration’s strategy for building additional reserves. While we concur with the Governor’s overall approach of building a robust level of total reserves, we find that his proposal to deposit optional amounts into the state’s rainy day fund would limit legislative control.

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Fiscal Outlook Supplement on Proposition 2

November 16, 2016 - On November 16th our office released its annual Fiscal Outlook. The outlook provides our assessment of California’s budget condition through 2020-21. This post provides more details on the outlook’s estimates of constitutionally required debt payments and reserve deposits under Proposition 2.

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[PDF] The 2017-18 Budget: Alternatives to the Governor’s Proposition 2 Proposals

February 23, 2017 - Proposition 2 (2014) requires the state to make: (1) minimum annual payments toward certain eligible debts and (2) deposits into the state’s rainy day fund. This publication outlines alternatives to the Governor’s proposals that could free up General Fund resources. It also addresses whether the Legislature can access funds from state’s rainy day reserve under the measure’s budget emergency provisions.

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The 2023-24 Budget: California's Fiscal Outlook

November 16, 2022 - Our annual Fiscal Outlook publication gives our office’s independent assessment of the California state budget condition for the upcoming fiscal year and over the longer term. In this report, we anticipate the state will have a $24 billion budget problem to solve in the upcoming fiscal year and operating deficits declining from $17 billion to $8 billion over the multiyear period. The goal of this report is to help the Legislature begin crafting the 2023‑24 budget. Our analysis relies on specific assumptions about the future of the state economy, its revenues, and its expenditures. Consequently, our estimates are not definitive, but rather reflect our best guidance to the Legislature based on our professional assessments as of November 2022.

Update (11/22/22): The original version of this report identified a $25 billion—instead of a $24 billion—budget problem, which reflected an error in the way we accounted for student housing grant program funding.

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The 2020-21 Budget: Structuring the Budget

February 10, 2020 - California has made significant progress in recent years to make its budget more resilient. Yet the process of achieving resilience can never be considered finished. This report lays out a framework for evaluating the budget’s structure using two key tools: reserves and operating surpluses. Using this framework, we evaluate the Governor’s proposed 2020-21 budget structure. We find that building more reserves or preserving a larger operating surplus would be prudent.

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The 2019-20 Budget: Structuring the Budget: Reserves, Debt and Liabilities

February 5, 2019 - This report considers the overall structure of the Governor’s budget to evaluate how well it prepares the state to address a future budget problem. We begin with background to explain the state budget structure, budget problems, and options for addressing budget problems. We also provide background on the state’s existing reserves and debts and liabilities. We then present some key considerations as the Legislature considers its overall budget structure. Finally, we present and assess each of the Governor’s major budget reserve and debt and liability proposals and offer some alternatives for legislative consideration.

2/5/19: Corrected total of state spending deferrals in Figure 5.

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[PDF] The 2019-20 Budget: May Revision Multiyear Budget Outlook

May 17, 2019 - This report presents our office’s independent assessment of the condition of the state General Fund budget through 2022-23 assuming the economy continues to grow and all of the Governor’s May Revision spending proposals are adopted.

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[PDF] The 2024-25 Budget: California's Fiscal Outlook

December 7, 2023 - Each year, our office publishes the Fiscal Outlook in anticipation of the upcoming budget season. The goal of this report is to give the Legislature our independent estimates and analysis of the state’s budget condition as lawmakers begin planning the 2024-25 budget.

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[PDF] The 2023-24 Budget: Overview of the Governor's Budget

January 13, 2023 - On January 10, 2023, Governor Newsom presented his proposed state budget to the Legislature. In this report, we provide a brief summary of the proposed budget based on our initial review. In the coming weeks, we will analyze the plan in more detail and release several additional budget analyses.

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The 2014-15 Budget: Overview of the Governor's Budget

January 13, 2014 - On January 9, the Governor presented a budget package with a proposed $2.3 billion reserve at the end of 2014-15. The Governor's budget seeks to address some of California's biggest budget issues. The Governor's emphasis on debt repayment is prudent, and his proposal for a new rainy-day fund requirement underscores the importance of regular state contributions to a larger budget reserve. Overall, the Governor's budget plan would place the state on an even stronger fiscal footing.

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The 2021-22 Budget: Initial Comments on the Governor’s May Revision

May 17, 2021 - On May 14, 2021, Governor Newsom presented a revised state budget proposal to the Legislature. (This annual proposed revised budget is called the “May Revision.”) In this post, we provide a summary of the Governor’s revised budget, focusing on the overall condition and structure of the state General Fund—the budget’s main operating account. In the coming days, we will analyze the plan in more detail and provide additional comments in hearing testimony and online.

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The 2023-24 Budget: Multiyear Assessment

February 15, 2023 - This brief provides our current assessment of the scale of the coming budget problems under the Governor’s budget proposals. We also provide our guidance to the Legislature about how to address these shortfalls given current economic conditions.

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The 2018-19 May Revision: LAO Multiyear State Budget Outlook

May 17, 2018 - This post presents our office’s outlook for the condition of the state’s General Fund through 2021-22 based on the Governor’s 2018-19 May Revision proposals.

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[PDF] The 2022-23 Budget: Overview of the Governor's Budget

January 13, 2022 - On January 10, 2022, Governor Newsom presented his proposed state budget to the Legislature. In this report, we provide a brief summary of the proposed budget based on our initial review. In the coming weeks, we will analyze the plan in more detail and release several additional budget analyses.

Update (1/21/22): Includes a corrected estimate of Governor’s Budget proposals that are excludable under the State Appropriations Limit (SAL).

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[PDF] The 2022-23 Budget: Initial Comments on the Governor's May Revision

May 16, 2022 - On May 13, 2022, Governor Newsom presented a revised state budget proposal to the Legislature. (This annual proposed revised budget is called the “May Revision.”) In this brief, we provide a summary of the Governor's revised budget, focusing on the overall condition and structure of the state General Fund—the budget's main operating account. In the coming days, we will analyze the plan in more detail and provide additional comments in hearing testimony and online. The information presented in this brief is based on our best understanding of the administration's proposals as of 11:00 AM, May 14, 2022. In many areas of the budget, this understanding will continue to evolve as we receive more information. We only plan to update this brief for very significant changes (that is, those greater than $500 million).

Update (5/20/22): Updated to reflect information about state appropriations limit (SAL) excluded spending and other budget proposals.

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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).