On Wednesday, the California Legislative Analyst Office estimated the state could face a $25 billion budget deficit. This is for fiscal outlook for 2023-24 which discusses threat of recession and revenue estimates being weaker.
Here is a look at the executive summary from the legislative office, followed by links to the report:
Economic Conditions Weigh on Revenues. Facing rising inflation, the Federal Reserve—tasked with maintaining stable price growth—repeatedly has enacted large interest rate increases throughout 2022 with the aim of cooling the economy and, in turn, slowing inflation. The longer inflation persists and the higher the Federal Reserve increases interest rates in response, the greater the risk to the economy. The chances that the Federal Reserve can tame inflation without inducing a recession are narrow. Reflecting the threat of a recession, our revenue estimates represent the weakest performance the state has experienced since the Great Recession.
State Faces $25 Billion Budget Problem and Ongoing Deficits. Under our outlook, the Legislature would face a budget problem of $25 billion in 2023‑24. (A budget problem—also called a deficit—occurs when resources for the upcoming fiscal year are insufficient to cover the costs of currently authorized services.) The budget problem is mainly attributable to lower revenue estimates, which are lower than budget act projections from 2021‑22 through 2023‑24 by $41 billion. Revenue losses are offset by lower spending in certain areas. Over the subsequent years of the forecast, annual deficits would decline from $17 billion to $8 billion.
Inflation‑Related Adjustments Vary Across Budget. The General Fund budget can be thought of in two parts: (1) the Proposition 98 budget for schools and community colleges, representing about 40 percent of General Fund spending, and (2) everything else. Under our estimates, the state can afford to maintain its existing school and community college programs and provide a cost‑of‑living adjustment of up to 8.38 percent in 2023‑24. The extent to which programs across the rest of the budget are adjusted for inflation varies considerably. Because our outlook reflects the current law and policy of the Legislature, our spending estimates only incorporate the effects of inflation on budgetary spending when there are existing policy mechanisms for doing so. Consequently, our estimate of a $25 billion budget problem understates the actual budget problem in inflation‑adjusted terms.
Save Reserves for a Recession. The $25 billion budget problem in 2023‑24 is roughly equivalent to the amount of general‑purpose reserves that the Legislature could have available to allocate to General Fund programs ($23 billion). While our lower revenue estimates incorporate the risk of a recession, they do not reflect a recession scenario. Based on historical experience, should a recession occur soon, revenues could be $30 billion to $50 billion below our revenue outlook in the budget window. As such, we suggest the Legislature begin planning the 2023‑24 budget without using general purpose reserves.
Recommend Legislature Identify Recent Augmentations to Pause or Delay. Early in 2023, we suggest the Legislature question the administration about the implementation and distribution of recent augmentations. If augmentations have not yet been distributed, the Legislature has an opportunity to reevaluate those expenditures. Moreover, in light of the magnitude of the recent augmentations, programs may not be working as expected, capacity issues may have constrained implementation, or other unforeseen challenges may have emerged. To address the budget problem for the upcoming year, these cases might provide the Legislature with areas for pause, delay, or reassessment.