Dan Walters

Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 – 7:50 am

When Capitol politicians and others talk or write about “the budget,” they are referring to the “general fund,” which Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to be a bit over $97 billion in the next fiscal year.

However, that’s never been the entire budget.

Whenever it’s passed by the Legislature, it also includes “special funds,” as well as “bond funds” and federal funds. And there’s been so much recent jockeying on how the state keeps its books that referring merely to the general fund as the budget is not only incomplete, but downright misleading to the voting and taxpaying public.

The tendency has been to shift expenditures from the general fund to new special funds and that has the effect – intended or coincidental – of flattening out general fund numbers and thus making the growth of state spending look smaller than it has been.

One big shift illustrates the point.

Brown and legislators adopted what they called “realignment,” shifting responsibility for parole, low-level felons and some social and health services from the state to counties, along with a chunk of the state sales tax, amounting to more than $5 billion a year, to pay for them.

The tax shift was ratified by voters last year as part of Proposition 30, Brown’s sales and income tax measure. The shifted revenue was removed from the general fund and routed through a new special fund.

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