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California's Budget Deficit is Likely Growing, Complicating Gov. Gavin Newsom's Plans
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By Associated Press
Published 1 week ago on
May 10, 2024

California's budget deficit is growing, posing challenges for Gov. Gavin Newsom. With declining revenues and tough choices ahead, the state faces a complex financial future. (AP File)

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SACRAMENTO – California Gov. Gavin Newsom will update his budget proposal on Friday, and the news likely won’t be good.

Newsom, in his last term as governor and widely seen as a future presidential candidate, announced a nearly $38 billion deficit in January, driven by declining revenues. Days later, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said the deficit was actually $58 billion when including some reductions in public education spending.

State officials needed a big rebound in tax collections to improve things, but it hasn’t happened. Through the end of April, state tax collections from its three biggest sources — personal income, corporations and sales — dropped more than $6 billion below the previous estimate.

That means the deficit has likely gotten larger, and Newsom will have to propose more ways to fix it. This is the second year in a row California has had a deficit, and so far the state has avoided the most painful cuts to major ongoing programs and services. Instead, Newsom and lawmakers have slashed one-time spending, delayed other spending and borrowed from other accounts.

Challenges Ahead

A bigger deficit could force tougher choices. In January, Newsom floated the possibility of delaying a minimum wage increase for health care workers that Newsom signed into law to much fanfare just last year.

“We still have a shortfall. We will manage it and we’ll manage it, yes, without general tax increases,” Newsom said on Wednesday during an event held by the California Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not just going to try to solve for this year. I want to solve for next year. I think it’s too important. We have got to be more disciplined.”

State budgeting is a guessing game, particularly in California, where a progressive tax system means the state gets the bulk of its tax collections from rich people. About half of the state’s income tax collections came from just 1% of the population in 2021. This makes the state more vulnerable to swings in the stock market.

If lawmakers and Newsom get revenue projections wrong and the state takes in less than they thought, there’s a shortfall. And unlike the federal government, the California Constitution requires the state to have a balanced budget.

Future Projections

Last year, their predictions were way off after a series of destructive storms in January 2023 prompted lengthy delays in tax filing deadlines. Instead of filing their taxes in April, most Californians could wait until November. Lawmakers still had to pass a budget by June, despite not knowing how much money they had.

This January, Newsom said the state’s revenues for 2022-23 to 2024-25 have been coming in $42.9 billion lower than they estimated.

Newsom and lawmakers have already agreed to about $17 billion in reductions and deferrals to reduce the deficit. Plus, Newsom has said he wants to take $13 billion from the state’s various savings accounts to help balance the budget.

But these won’t close the gap, and California appears headed toward more deficits in the future.

Corporate tax collections are down 15% from last year, the fourth largest drop in the past 40 years, according to the LAO. And while income taxes are growing thanks to a 20% increase in the stock market since October that’s driving an increase of 8% in total income tax collections this year, the LAO said growth is unlikely to continue. That’s because the broader state economy has not improved — the unemployment rate has risen and investments in California businesses have declined.

After Newsom reveals his proposal on Friday, state lawmakers will have until June 15 to pass a balanced budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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