California’s Deficit is Biggest in Nation

A recent Rasmussen Report found that sixty-eight percent of voters view Congress’ job performance as poor. Failure in the eyes of the public doesn’t belong only to federal representatives. Many state legislatures face equally dismal public approval ratings. In California, the Legislature’s approval rating is just twenty-two percent. At the end of 2011, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie earned the dubious distinction of the worst job approval rating among governors at just thirty percent. Oppositely, a majority of Garden State voters approve of the job performance of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In a recent poll, Christie’s job approval rating is fifty-three percent, and has not dipped below fifty percent since August 2011.

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California, Hawaii and New Jersey have diverse approval ratings, yet the three states have one commonality: debt. In a recent State Budget Solutions study, California, Hawaii and New Jersey are among states in the worst fiscal situation. The study examines how total state debt is affected by state size, including population, among other factors. However, the study does not include analysis regarding the Constitutional limitations that each state developed to limit their respective debts.

The approval ratings in these three states may drop further if each constituency knew that Constitutional violations are being overlooked. Why would a state go to the trouble of amending its Constitution to limit spending powers if the legislature cannot assure citizens that spending will, in actuality, be limited?

Looking deeper into California, the Golden State places first among the states with the largest total deficits with $117,747,412 in outstanding debt. According to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) data, the economic outlook ranking of California is just 47th out of the 50 states, indicating dismal future economic performance. Interestingly, the California Constitution is one of the longest in the world. The length is attributed to a number of factors, among them, a lack of faith in elected officials. The California Constitution includes individual rights that are broader than in the federal Bill of Rights, suggesting that Californians placed a lot of emphasis on protecting individual liberties and ensuring the government does not have an undue influence on the people.

The California Constitution specifically addresses debt in Article 16, Section 1. Here, the Constitution states, in part:

The Legislature shall not, in any manner create any debt or debts […] which shall, singly or in the aggregate with any previous debts or liabilities, exceed the sum of three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000), except in case of war to repel invasion or suppress insurrection, unless the same shall be authorized by law for some single object or work to be distinctly specified therein which law shall provide ways and means […]. [Emphasis added].

Unless California is at war or suppressing an insurrection unbeknownst to Californians and Americans alike, the California legislature is violating their own Constitution. An additional breakdown of the subsections of the study, including the definitions of “accumulated state budget deficit,” “single object or work,” as well as bond allowances may offer some Constitutional cushion, but the intent of the provision is clear: limiting the legislature from accumulating excessive debt.

Historically, the California legislature has spent in excess of 100% of its revenue for nineteen of thirty-six years since 1976. Not only does this overspending violate the Constitution, it depleted the Budget Stabilization Account (Proposition 58). Since constitutional debt limitations do not apparently suffice, voters approved the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) in March 2004 to require the State Controller to transfer a specific percentage of estimated General Fund revenues from the General Fund to the BSA. Theoretically, the proposition was meant to help balance the budget.

However, since FY2008-09, the Governor has issued an executive order each year tosuspend the transfer to the Budget Stabilization Account. Strategically, in the 2012-13 Governor’s Budget, the expenditures from the account are labeled “Proposition 98 Expenditures,” while the empty transfer line item is labeled “Budget Stabilization Account.” Despite overwhelming public support to limit the debt California is rapidly racking up, it seems that the appropriators are happy to suspend efforts attempting to accomplish that end and will even use labeling techniques to help cover up these efforts.

Even more alarming, Governor Jerry Brown proposed in January that the state plug $5.4 billion of deficit by borrowing from other internal state funds, shifting property tax revenues from redevelopment agencies to counties and taking money from voter-approved funds for services for mentally ill and for young children.

So, how can Californians reconcile excessive spending with the violation of the Constitution and a voter-approved proposition meant to curb spending? It is readily apparent that tricky budgeting and below-the-radar executive orders indicate that the provisions mean little to California lawmakers. Lawmakers in the Golden State should follow the provisions in the state Constitution, the highest law of the state, and both address California’s massive deficit and create more responsible budgets in the future.

(Bob Williams is the President of State Budget Solutions; Kristen De Pena is an Associate Writer for Sunshine Review and State Budget Solutions. Originally posted on Fox & Hounds.)


  1. Pamela McDonald says

    We have a petition to address the out of control spending which puts this State in jeopardy circulating right now. It is for the creation of a part-time legislature in an attempt to halt their massive expenses to Californians, and to stop them from being the Bill-Mill they have become. They are not representative of Californians, but instead are controlled by the unions and special interests. Our Legislature is and has been controlled by the Democratic Party for 52 of the last 54 years. They have no accountability, and answer to no one other than the organizations who have elected them over and over. We all knew Jerry Brown’s legacy of the past, and yet Californians voted for him to come back and finish the job of destroying California’s economy. The situation here is hopeless now and in the future.

    I am a third generation Californian, and never thought California would be taken down into a Socialist State where we can no longer survive and where we had no representation as citizens of this State. It will continue it’s rapid decline on it’s unsustainable course.

    • I to am a 3rd Generation Californian and am disgusted what the progressives have done to this once great state…..We NEED a part time legislature NOW!! We must stop the madness…

  2. Why is it when they make cuts, they cut firefighters, policemen, veteran benefits? Why not just cut benefits to illegals and put a limit on welfare or make welfare recipitents pick up trash along our highways that the illegals throw down? That would surely balance the budget over night.

    • Exactly!

    • When you see examples of the progressivists entitling and enfranchising illegals and their childeran (who are not under U.S. jurisdiction and therefore have no native-born U.S. rights) to state assistance (think DREAM ACT), then you now whose interests are being served without a doubt. AND ITS NOT THE AMERICAN CITIZEN!
      Some folks are willing to abuse the public trust and endure your deprivation of U.S. resources and opportunity. Sure its painful, but it is a sacrifice they are willing to make.

  3. The root problem in California is the sheeple. They are so uninformed and ignorant of the choices they make every election that they keep sending the same criminals back to Sacramento to rip them off. Then there are those who are simply lazy and want everything the state is willing to give them for nothing. These are the real problem with California. The sheeple who were born here and grew up in the indoctrination system laughingly called the California Education system have no education and cannot think for themselves. Thus they are led to the voting booth by democrats who tell them who and what to vote for and like sheep they follow along blindly to the slaughter all the while taking the entire farm with down them. Read Animal Farm by George Orwell and you will see what I mean. It explains what is going on in CA and the entire nation today.

  4. The reason they don’t cut the “Illegals” bebefits is because they consider them to be “Undocumented Democrats”

  5. RrOTTWEILER says

    We are dealing with progressive, liberal mentality. Cut the people who really mean vitality for California while letting the welfare receipients and immigrants still enjoy the perks of free social programs. Even if they cut education they should really defund the unions which are really not that productive except to cram excessive and unsustainable pensions and medical down our throats. Provide for yourselves like most of the population has to do on a daily basis. Defund the Sacramento corrupt politicians who have become fat and lazy off of the voter’s apathy.

  6. These idiot Democrats do this same thing every year! Why?? I will tell you why and the reason is that the idiot electorate keeps voting them time and time and time again!! When they term out what do these politicians do? Of course they get into the big revolving door and get some juicy plum of job in the state government, bye and bye they run for political office again and the idiot electorate puts them back into the big nuthouse called the state legislature! Dear voters YOU are responsible in large part for this mess!

    • ‘Dear voters YOU are responsible in large part for this mess!’

      You are absolutely right Craig. Apathetics who ‘excersize their right ‘ not to participate, and those voters who do not challenge themselves to become reasonably informed about current issues and vote accordingly, are not deserving of any persons tolerance and respect. With the Web being so user friendly, there really is no excuse. They injure us all by facilitating the problem, and not engaging in participation beyond leisure entertainments. If the effects of contemporary ills could be limited to just these sluggish citizens, I would say the punishment fits the crime. Sadly, it effects us all.

  7. In this state we have too many greedy unions and politicians and most of them are simply crooks and thieves looking at the taxpayers’ money as a feeding trough for themselves only. To save the state, all public workers unions should be banned or reformed respective to the current state economy (as well as their wages – forget about pensions!), the legislature has to be replaced with part-time enthusiasts (not pro legislators!) and all the illegals – kicked out – otherwise we’re doomed!

  8. John T. Larimer, Jr. says

    California is awash in debt. Start by not paying government employees and union members. Jerry Brown would be a good place to start.

  9. I am also a disgusted third generation Californian, We need to put the legislature back on a part time basis. We need to eliminate per-Diem and self approved travel expenses for all state employees. No state elected official should be entitled to a pension, based on elected service. That would displace the greedy self serving politicians. All “gifts” or other compensation to an elected official should have to be screened by an independent agency and if the gift was over a certain value it would have to be declined
    or if appropriate accepted on behalf of the people of California. The net worth of a person trying for elected office, should be determined before entering office and after leaving office, if the net worth shows substantial increase such increase should be fully disclosed. Unless it can be positively proven a valid increase such as a family inheritance it should be suspect and access limited until its origin can be properly determined.

  10. Samuel Stephens says

    This State California, has gotten just what it wants. A government that is corrupt, DE*

    Democratic Californians have finally gotten what they’ve wanted, a state government on the verge of insolvency, a budget that can’t be balanced, crooked politicians who are not held accountable for their actions nor bad decisions. Partisan Politics is the “Game of the Day”. Best Politicians money “Labor Unions, Special Interest Groups” can buy. Democratic Politicians who would rather promote Homosexuality than an education for our children. If DE***RATs lips are movin they’re a lyin and about to get in yer wallet. Tax the Rich, Protect the Queer and Kill Babies with their “Family Planning” all funded by the California Taxpayer.

  11. Hey, all you Kalifornia politicians and pubic employee union members. There’s no more money left to steal. You’ve destroyed the greatest state in the greatest country on earth.

    • Hondo its not quite that bad (but ts reeeeeeeal close). What has occured is the realization that, based on their 40 year track record), we dont need to give social progressivism the benefit of the doubt ever again; EVER!
      It is now proven to be a well-meaning crackpot scheme like Communism and Anarchy.
      Expensive? You bet!
      We went from the 1960s fifth largest world economy, to the current eighth largest economy (and Sacramento is STILL business hostile).

  12. I say until we have a national campaign for awareness of all this rhetoric and clear truth tells of the facts to the American people, they are not educated in mass on what we are saying here. When only 50% of the American people understand what the H..LL is going on…we are in big trouble and it will continue!
    If they could sell a Pet Rock on a national level, we can instill Patriotism and a New Understanding for Freedom under the Constitution. And this needs to be done…well first thing in the morning.

  13. We’ve all heard that insanity is doing something repeatedly and expecting different results. A majority of California voters support the death penalty, yet “we” voted in people to the two highest offices in the state( Governor, Attorney General) who are anti- death penalty!!! They “won’t” defend our “laws” in court, (death penalty,Prop 8, et al). Of all the laws in this state, they don’t have one that requires them to defend our “laws” ?!?! That’s crazy!!!A “law” is not a “law” if it’s not enforced. What good is an attorney general that defends only the “laws” she agrees with!!! That’s not what “we” voted her in for!!! They are also pro- gun control ( effectively, we don’t have the right to self- defense outside our homes), pro- illegal immigration, (with the state “billions” in the hole, Illegals are educated at the expense of the taxpayer). I could go on, but you get the point. I can only hope Ca. voters do ,too. Yep, they also have the dreaded ” D” next to their names!!! In Ca.,sadly, that’s all it takes. Oh, by the way, this is Brown’s second go-round (third term) as governor!!! If the first sentence is true, California voters are insane!!!

    • Rob, Californias voters do have recourse. It is called the Recall Process. But the root cause of insincerity/deriliction in office, is that we really havent had any more than ONE governing party in California since ………1990s? When that occurs, the super-majoritry party excersizes its’ ‘discretion’ in deciding if and when a violation of trust ‘is one’; and whether any redress is needed.
      With any luck., this monopoly is apt to abruptly change SOON.


  1. […] Brown has a problem. His state continues to spend billions more than it collects in taxes. Outlays for pensioners are starting to bite into day to day […]

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