November 16, 2016 - Under our current projections, assuming no changes in existing state and federal policies, we estimate the state will end the 2017-18 fiscal year with $11.5 billion in total reserves. This includes $8.7 billion in required reserves, which must be deposited into the rainy day fund, and $2.8 billion in discretionary reserves, which the Legislature can appropriate for any purpose. These reserve levels reflect the continued progress California has made in improving its budget situation. Our estimates include the effects of statewide ballot measures that were approved on November 8. The condition of the state budget depends on many volatile and unpredictable factors. This uncertainty is present in the near term and becomes greater in each subsequent year. We discuss two illustrative economic scenarios for the fiscal years after 2017-18. Under a mild recession scenario, the state would have enough reserves to cover its operating deficits through 2020-21. This means, under our assumptions, the state could weather a mild recession without cutting spending or raising taxes. However, this conclusion assumes that the state does not make any changes to its current policies and programs in any year during the outlook. This outlook also assumes no changes in federal policy, even though the recent election results suggest some such changes are now likely. State or federal policy changes could have a significant impact on the state's bottom line.
January 13, 2017 - This publication is our office’s initial response to the Governor's 2017-18 budget proposal. The administration's estimates anticipate slow growth in the personal income tax (PIT), the state’s dominant revenue source. The Governor’s estimate of PIT growth in 2017-18 is probably too low. As a result, by the May Revision, the state could have more General Fund revenue than the Governor now projects, but much of that revenue would be required to go to schools and Proposition 2 reserves and debt payments. Facing uncertainties we have long discussed about the economy and new uncertainties about changes to federal policy, the Legislature may want to set a target for total state reserves at—or preferably above—the level the Governor now proposes.
November 18, 2015 - California's state budget is better prepared for an economic downturn than it has been at any point in decades. Under the main economic scenario in this year's LAO Fiscal Outlook, 2016-17 would end with reserves of $11.5 billion, assuming the state makes no new budget commitments through next year. If the economy continues to grow through 2019-20, annual operating surpluses and larger reserves could materialize, and there may be capacity for some new budget commitments—whether spending increases or tax reductions. An economic or stock market downturn, however, could occur during our outlook period. To illustrate this economic uncertainty, we provide projections under alternative scenarios such as a hypothetical recession that causes budget deficits to re-emerge. The more new budget commitments are made in 2016-17, the more likely it is that the state would face difficult choices—such as spending cuts and tax increases—later.
May 15, 2017 - In this brief, we analyze the Governor’s May Revision education proposals. First, we review changes in the overall Proposition 98 funding level. Subsequently, we describe and assess the Governor’s major proposals for K‑12 education, child care and preschool, the California Community Colleges, the California State University, the University of California, and student financial aid.
5/16/17: Correction to LAO CalWORKs Stage 2 cost estimates.
January 11, 2016 - This publication is our office’s initial response to the 2016-17 Governor’s Budget proposal. Estimates of state personal income taxes and required school funding are up significantly. In allocating discretionary resources in the 2016-17 budget, the Governor prioritizes growing state budget reserves. Specifically, he increases total reserves to more than $10 billion and also allocates a sizable portion of discretionary resources to one-time infrastructure spending. We encourage the Legislature, as it crafts this year’s budget in line with its own priorities, to begin with a robust target for reserves for the end of 2016-17 and to concentrate spending on one-time purposes. This would still leave some funds available for targeted ongoing commitments—particularly if the Legislature extends the managed care organization (MCO) tax. Such a measured approach would better position the state for any near-term economic downturn.
February 16, 2018 - In this report we provide a broad overview of the Governor's health and human services budget, highlighting major year-over-year changes. We then provide a more in-depth analysis of select programmatic areas.
May 12, 2018 - On May 11, 2018 the Governor presented his 2018-19 May Revision budget proposal to the Legislature. This post describes the major features of the Governor’s May Revision and our office’s initial comments on it.
January 14, 2019 - This report presents our office’s initial assessment of the Governor’s Budget. The budget’s position continues to be positive. With $20.6 billion in discretionary resources available, the Governor’s budget proposal reflects a budget situation that is even better than the one our office estimated in the November Fiscal Outlook. The Governor’s Budget allocates nearly half of these discretionary resources to repaying state liabilities. Then, the Governor allocates $5.1 billion to one-time programmatic spending, $3 billion to reserves, and $2.7 billion to ongoing spending. Although the Governor’s allocation to discretionary reserves represents a smaller share of resources than recent budgets, the Governor’s decision to use a significant share of resources to pay down state debts is prudent. The Governor’s ongoing spending proposal is roughly in line with our November estimate of the ongoing capacity of the budget under an economic growth scenario. This was just one scenario, however. Recent financial market volatility indicates revenues could be somewhat lower than either we or the administration estimated.
November 19, 2014 - The 20th annual edition of the LAO's Fiscal Outlook—a look at possible state revenue and spending trends over the next five years—reflects anticipated progress in building budget reserves under the recently approved Proposition 2. Specifically, absent new budget commitments, we estimate the state would end 2015-16 with $4.2 billion in total reserves, $2 billion of which would result from Proposition 2's new reserve rules. A $4 billion reserve would mark significant progress for the state, but maintaining such a reserve in 2015-16 would mean little or no new spending commitments outside of Proposition 98, the funding formula for schools and community colleges. Our higher General Fund revenue estimates translate to $6.4 billion available in 2015-16 for the state's Proposition 98 priorities. The report also discusses choices facing the state in implementing Proposition 2, such as choices about which budgetary and retirement debts to repay with dedicated Proposition 2 funds over the next 15 years.
January 18, 2018 - The Governor presented his budget package to the Legislature on January 10, 2018. This web post provides an overview and assessment of the largest component of that package—the Proposition 98 budget.