Governors, Legislatures, and Budgets: Diversity across the American States

By Edward J. Clynch; Thomas P. Lauth | Go to book overview
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California: Changing Demographics and Executive Dominance

JERRY L. MCCAFFERY

California is a study in contrasts. It is the nation's leading agricultural state, but 90 percent of its people live in cities. It has both the highest and lowest geographical points in the continental United States. It has more miles of coastline than any other state except Alaska, and its population tends to cluster on the coast, around San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is the most populous state in the union, but vast areas in the east and north have sparse populations. Its leading industries tend to be aerospace and to be high-tech oriented, yet its agricultural industries demand backbreaking stoop labor. It is known for good movies and bad earthquakes, good wines and bad traffic, and good government and weird ideas. Some residents of the state have a sense that anything is possible; others fear they may be right.

California is an annual budget state. Its budget is the largest of the state budgets, with over $44 billion for FY 1989. The governor is the chief architect of this budget, ably assisted by the budget groups in the Department of Finance. As is common in many states, the legislature is a powerful modifier of the budget. Although it begins with the governor's budget, the legislature does a lot of independent analysis. Its principal assistant in this effort is the office of the Legislative Analyst, a highly professionalized and politically neutral staff unit that analyzes and reports on the governor's budget. These recommendations concern both grand questions of policy and the minutiae of management.

The governor has a line-item veto which he or she utilizes with regularity to shape the budget to his liking. Policymaking in California is also played out within an environment of direct participation. Public initiatives in the last decade have capped local tax revenues, forced the state to bail out local governments, and linked state spending growth to changes in the cost of living and population growth. Other initiatives have been proposed which would directly control the maximum salary payable by governmental units in California and constitutionally dedicate portions of state taxes to local governments based on where the tax originated.

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