California’s Budget Process: A Primer

At a high level, the legislative budget process kicks off in earnest when the Governor publishes his January budget proposal by the 10th of that month. From there, the budget committees of the Legislature’s two houses begin analyzing the Governor’s budget and preparing responses and counter proposals. This process generally runs from March through the end of May. As part of that process, budget subcommittees which oversee specific issues areas, such as housing or the environment, hold public hearings to discuss proposals and receive feedback from stakeholders. Because of the subject matter expertise of these committees, much of the work on specific policies and proposals is done at this subcommittee level. 

In mid-May, the Governor publishes an updated proposal, known as the May Revision (also called the May Revise). The May Revise takes into account the more accurate revenue forecasts based on April tax filings, which provides the Administration the opportunity to update its proposed program budgets. Historically, the May Revise results in cuts to programs but that wasn’t the case with this year’s budget. Instead, the Administration proposed significant expansions for the state’s various programs, prompting the Legislature to put together its own ideas on how to spend the surplus dollars. 

After the subcommittees finalize their issue-specific proposals, those proposals are transmitted up to the full budget committee for discussion and inclusion in the house’s overall budget proposal package. The Governor, the Assembly, and the Senate then enter into negotiations over what proposals to include with an eye toward the June 15 deadline. From there, the Legislature utilizes budget trailer bills, which “trail” the budget by being enacted after the budget bill, to provide more refined policy guidance on some of the program spending. Trailer bills generally cannot, however, modify the amount of funding being allocated at the detailed programmatic level.