The State Budget Is Done — Time to Start Thinking About … the State Budget

In the wake of another on-time state budget, and with the Legislature on a month-long summer break, it would be natural to conclude that Californians won’t hear about — and don’t need to think about — the state budget again until sometime in 2015.

On the contrary: Like the Big Apple, California’s budget process never sleeps, a point highlighted in Dollars and Democracy, our newly updated guide to the rules and practices that shape the development of each year’s state budget package. The always-in-motion character of the state budget process can be seen in the following examples:

  • First, the seeds of each year’s state budget are planted well before January 10 — the constitutional deadline for the Governor to propose a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year (which begins on July 1). Starting each summer and continuing through the fall, the Governor’s proposed budget is developed within the various agencies and departments of the executive branch through a process coordinated by the Department of Finance. While there is no official opportunity for public input at this stage, resourceful Californians can find ways to get their priorities heard — and maybe even adopted — by the Administration as the proposed spending plan is being assembled.
  • Second, far from being set in stone, the “final” budget that is crafted by lawmakers and the Governor following months of hearings and negotiations is likely to change over the course of a fiscal year. This occurs as state policymakers revise spending up or down and add new “trailer” bills to the budget package. For example, in each of the past two years the Legislature has passed a new budget bill — known as “Budget Bill, Jr.” — just a couple of months after the original budget bill was signed into law. The odds are that the budget package signed by Governor Brown a couple of weeks ago will be revised at least once, if not multiple times, in the coming months.

In short, there’s no “off season” as far as the state budget goes. While the January-to-June period gets the most attention, the process of crafting the budget is an ongoing enterprise, giving Californians ample reason to stay engaged and involved year-round.

— Scott Graves