California Budget ChallengeAbout Next 10Budget Overview

Budget Basics


  • Budget Year
  • CalWORKs
  • Current Year 
  • Debt Service
  • Deficits, Debt and Shortfalls
  • Fiscal Year
  • General Fund 
  • Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO)
  • May Revision
  • Medi-Cal
  • Next 10
  • Pensions
  • Proposition 2 
  • Proposition 98
  • Proposition 13
  • Recidivism
  • Revenue
  • Spending
  • Surplus, Fund Balance
  • Tax Expenditures
  • Trigger Cuts

Budget Year:

The next state fiscal year, beginning July 1 and ending June 30, for which the Governor’s Budget is submitted.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms


CalWORKs is a welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible needy California families. The program serves all 58 counties in the state and is operated locally by county welfare departments. If a family has little or no cash and needs housing, food, utilities, clothing or medical care, they may be eligible to receive immediate short-term help. Families that apply and qualify for ongoing assistance receive money each month to help pay for housing, food and other necessary expenses.

The amount of a family's monthly assistance payment depends on a number of factors, including the number of people who are eligible and the special needs of any of those family members. The income of the family is considered in calculating the amount of cash aid the family receives. 

There are other programs and benefits for which a family may qualify by being on CalWORKs.

Specific eligibility requirements consider an applicant's citizenship, age, income, resources, assets and other factors. Generally, services are available to:

Families that have a child(ren) in the home who has been deprived of parental support or care because of the absence, disability or death of either parent.

Families with a child(ren) when both parents are in the home but the principal earner is unemployed. 

Needy caretaker relatives of a foster child(ren).

Source: California Department of Social Services

Current Year:

A term used in budgeting and accounting to designate the operations of the present fiscal year in contrast to past or future periods.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

Debt Service: 

The amount of money required to pay interest on outstanding bonds and the principal of maturing bonds.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

Deficits, Debt and Shortfalls:

Long-term budget planning begins with what is called a “current services" (or status quo) budget. The current services budget has estimates for each major spending and revenue categories assuming that there are no changes in current policies. However, status quo budgets do take account of expected changes in caseloads and expected changes in the level of jobs, income and tax revenues. Using these projections, plus an estimate of expected revenues, the Department of Finance estimates the projected funding gap, or shortfall, that the budget faces. This amount is often referred to as a deficit, but because the Governor and Legislature will take steps to address that shortfall, it's not actually a deficit at that point.

If projected spending levels remain above projected revenue levels for a period of years, the budget is said to have a “structural” deficit (i.e., a built-in shortfall). A structural deficit is a shortfall that will continue over time unless policy changes are made.

Debt, on the other hand, is money that has been borrowed and needs to be paid back. Generally, this is one of several kinds. Traditionally, debt refers to borrowing that the state does in order to finance a capital project, such as constructing a road or building. This type of borrowing, referred to as “bonds", is usually done over a long period of time, so that future taxpayers who will benefit from the project help pay the costs.

More recently, as the state has experienced budget shortfalls, it undertook budgetary borrowing, such as borrowing from special funds, deferring school and community college funding to the next year, or borrowing from local governments. The Department of Finance estimates that the state will have about $25 billion of outstanding budgetary borrowing at the end of 2013-14.

Lastly, the state has unfunded obligations for the cost of pensions and health care benefits for retired state workers. Pension benefits are pre-funded through a combination of employer (taxpayer) and employee contributions. Whether the funds that have been contributed over time and current contributions are sufficient depends on numerous factors. Retiree health care benefits for state employees are not currently prefunded, meaning that the state pays for the cost of this benefit on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

Fiscal Year: 

A 12-month period during which income is earned and received, obligations are incurred, encumbrances are made, appropriations are expended, and for which other fiscal transactions are recorded.  In California state government, the fiscal year begins July 1 and ends the following June 30.  If reference is made to the state’s FY 2014, this is the time period beginning July 1, 2014 and ending June 30, 2015.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

General Fund:

For legal basis accounting and budgeting purposes, the predominant fund for financing state government programs, used to account for revenues which are not specifically designated to be accounted for by any other fund.  The primary sources of revenue for the General Fund are the personal income tax, sales tax, and corporation taxes.  The major uses of the General Fund are education (K-12 and higher education), health and human service programs, and correctional programs.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO):

The Legislative Analyst's Office has been providing fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature for more than 70 years. It is known for its fiscal and programmatic expertise and nonpartisan analyses of the state budget. The office serves as the "eyes and ears" for the Legislature to ensure that the executive branch is implementing legislative policy in a cost efficient and effective manner.

Source: Legislative Analyst's Office

May Revision:

An annual update to the Governor’s Budget containing a revised estimate of General Fund revenues for the current and ensuing fiscal years, any proposals to adjust expenditures to reflect updated revenue estimates, and all proposed adjustments to Proposition 98, presented by the Department of Finance to the Legislature by May 14 of each year.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms


Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid health care program. This program pays for a variety of medical services for children and adults with limited income and resources. Medi-Cal is supported by federal and state taxes. You can apply for Medi-Cal benefits regardless of sex, race, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, or veteran status. If you are found (or determined) eligible, you can get Medi-Cal as long as you continue to meet the eligibility requirements

Source: California Department of Health Care Services

Next 10:

Next 10 is an independent, nonpartisan organization that educates, engages, and empowers Californians to improve the state’s future. Next 10 creates tools and provides information that fosters a deeper understanding of the state’s most critical issues.


The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families. CalPERS is a defined benefit retirement plan.  It provides benefits based on a member’s years of service, age, and highest average compensation. Approximately half of members pay into Social Security.

CalSTRS is the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and is the largest U.S. teachers' retirement fund with a membership of 856,360.

Source: CalPERS, CalSTRS

Proposition 2:

Proposition 2 (2014) amended the State Constitution to end the previous rules for a state budget reserve—the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) or "Rainy Day Fund"—and replace them with new rules. Proposition 2 made the following changes:

  • Requires the state to spend a minimum amount each year to pay down specified debts
  • Changes the amount that goes into the BSA and increases the maximum size of the BSA; changes the rules for when the state can put less money into the BSA; changes rules for taking money out of the BSA
  • Creates state reserve for schools and community colleges; sets maximum reserves that school districts can keep at the local level in some future years

Source: Legislative Analyst's Office

Proposition 98:

California voters enacted Proposition 98 in 1988 as an amendment to the State Constitution. This measure, which was later amended by Proposition 111, establishes a minimum annual funding level for K-14 schools (K-12 schools and community colleges). Proposition 98 funding constitutes over 70 percent of total K-12 funding and about two-thirds of total community college funding.

Source: Legislative Analyst's Office

Proposition 13:

Proposition 13, passed in 1978, established the base year value concept for property tax assessments. Under Proposition 13, the 1975-76 fiscal year serves as the original base year used in determining the assessment for real property. Thereafter, annual increases to the base year value are limited to the inflation rate, as measured by the California Consumer Price Index, or two percent, whichever is less. A new base year value, however, is established whenever a property, or portion thereof, has had a change in ownership or has been newly constructed.

Under Proposition 13, the property tax rate is fixed at one percent of assessed value plus amounts required to repay any assessment bonds approved by the voters.

Source: Board of Equalization, California Property Tax: An Overview


Recidivism is defined in California as occurring when an inmate is released from state prison and convicted of a subsequent crime within three years of release. The primary goal of rehabilitation programs in prisons to reduce the level of recidivism. Of the 36,000 inmates released in 2012-13, 16,500 were convicted of a new crime within three years (a recidivism rate of 46%). The state currently operates 114,000 rehabilitation program slots across six different categories of programs. California state prisons house nearly 130,000 inmates per year.

Source: Legislative Analyst's Office


State Revenues that pay for General Fund programs, including Income Tax, Sales Tax, and the Corporate Tax. The Cigarette Tax, Alcohol Tax, and Insurance Tax are also small sources of Revenue.


State Programs funded by the General Fund budget, including K-12 Education, Higher Education, Health and Human Services, and Criminal Justice.


The federal Social Security Income (SSI) program provides a monthly cash benefit to eligible aged, blind, and disable persons who meet the program's income and resource requirements. In California, the SSI payment is augmented with a State Supplement Payment (SSP) grant. These cash grants assist recipients with basic needs and living expenses. The federal Social Security Administration administers the SSI/SSP program, making eligibility determinations, computing grants, and issuing combined monthly checks to recipients. 

Source: California Department of Social Services

Surplus, Fund Balance:

For accounting purposes, the excess of a fund’s assets over its liabilities.  For budgeting purposes, the excess of a fund’s resources over its expenditures.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

Tax Expenditures:

Subsidies provided through the taxation systems by creating deductions, credits and exclusions of certain types of income or expenditures that would otherwise be taxable.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

Trigger Cuts:

Budget “trigger” mechanisms have been enacted in statute under which various budget programs are automatically reduced if revenues fall below expenditures by a specific amount.

Source: California Department of Finance Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms

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