Capitol Alert

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Gov. Jerry Brown's introduction of a proposed 2012-13 budget for California not only touches off the annual wrangle over what to spend on what, but the annual debate over the budget's dimensions.

Officially, the governor's budget is $137.3 billion, consisting of a general fund budget of $92.6 billion, $39.8 billion in special funds (Caltrans, Department of Motor Vehicles, etc.) and just under $5 billion in bond funds.

But that official number ignores about $70 billion in federal funds that will be funneled through the budget, thereby bringing the total to more than $200 billion, or roughly 10 percent of the state's economy.

But wait, as the TV pitchmen say, there's more.

Those numbers also don't include another $50 billion or so in public pension payouts, so -- according to the Census Bureau -- total state expenditures would be about a quarter-trillion dollars.

But let's go back to the general fund. It finances K-12 education, colleges, prisons, health care, welfare and other high-profile services and programs, and it's the chief source of political angst. Even that is difficult to quantify.

First of all, the $92.6 general fund budget assumes that voters will approve about $7 billion a year in new sales and income tax revenues in November, more than $4 billion of which would be received and spent during 2012-13. If that $4 billion isn't forthcoming, the budget -- if enacted by the Legislature -- would automatically cut spending by $5.4 billion, almost all of it from schools.

Secondly, the $92.6 billion doesn't include about $6 billion in tax diversions to counties to pay for Brown's new "realignment" of programs, mostly shifting felons from state prison terms into local jails. Therefore, one should add that number to the $92.6 billion to make meaningful comparisons with previous budgets.

Including the $6 billion and assuming that the taxes are approved, spending would approach $100 billion, which is just about what the general fund was spending before recession clobbered the revenue stream a few years ago. And it would be about $7 billion more than what the general fund spent in 2010-11, the last pre-realignment budget.



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