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The 2020-21 Budget: Structuring the Budget


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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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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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The 2020-21 Budget: California's Spring Fiscal Outlook

May 8, 2020 - This report provides an update on the budget’s condition in light of the public health emergency and economic downturn associated with the coronavirus disease 2019. Our outlook presents two potential scenarios—a somewhat optimistic “U-shaped” recession and a somewhat pessimistic “L-shaped” recession—and assumes a baseline level of expenditures. Under these two scenarios, the state would have to address an $18 billion or $31 billion budget problem. The state’s newly emergent fiscal challenges are likely to extend well beyond the end of the public health crisis. Under both of our economic scenarios, budget deficits persist until at least 2023-24 with multiyear deficits summing to $64 billion in the U-shaped recession and $126 billion in the L-shaped recession.

Video: Press Availability Video Call

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The 2020-21 Budget: Overview of the Governor's Budget

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.

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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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The 2020-21 Budget: Initial Comments on the Governor’s May Revision

May 17, 2020 - On May 14, 2020, Governor Newsom presented a revised state budget proposal to the Legislature. In this post, we provide an overview of the overall budget condition under the May Revision estimates and proposals; the major actions the Governor took to close an estimated $54 billion budget gap; and give our initial comments on this budget package.

Perspective

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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The 2019-20 Budget: California's Fiscal Outlook

November 14, 2018 -

The budget is in remarkably good shape. Under our estimates of revenues and spending, the state’s constitutional reserve would reach $14.5 billion by the end of 2019-20. In addition, we project the Legislature will have nearly $15 billion in resources available to allocate in the 2019-20 budget process. The Legislature can use these funds to build more reserves or make new one-time and/or ongoing budget commitments.

The longer-term outlook for the state also is positive. Under our economic growth scenario, the state would have operating surpluses averaging around $4.5 billion per year (but declining over time). Under our recession scenario, the state would have enough reserves to cover a budget problem—provided the Legislature used all of the available resources in 2019-20 to build more reserves.

Along with the Fiscal Outlook, you can find a collection of other fiscal outlook material on our fiscal outlook budget page.

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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.

Perspective

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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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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The 2019-20 Budget: Analysis of the Department of Social Services Budget

February 22, 2019 - In this report, we evaluate the Governor's major human services budget proposals for programs administered by the Department of Social Services, including the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP), the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), and foster care.

Perspective

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.