Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
03/10/2015 11:59 PM

There were once bright lines that separated the state’s general fund budget from its special funds.

The former was supported by broad revenues such as income, sales and corporate taxes and financed equally broad services such as colleges, prisons, K-12 schools and welfare.

The latter had specialized revenues and financed services tied to those revenues such as the gasoline tax-supported state highway fund’s construction and maintenance of highways, or the auto and driver’s license fees that paid for the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Highway Patrol.

By and by, however, those once-bright lines became blurred, especially during periods of fiscal distress.

Funds meant for one purpose were often “borrowed” to finance another, and services that had been in the general fund were transferred to special funds.

One effect of those frequent shifts is that it’s very difficult to make comparisons between different fiscal years and measure the overall reach of the state budget. But the Legislative Analyst’s Office gave it a try at the request of Sen. Mark Leno, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and clarified what has been a very muddled picture.

The LAO report points out, for instance, that back in 2007, before recession gripped the state, it had estimated that by 2012-13, general fund spending, then about $104 billion, would reach nearly $136 billion. In fact, however, actual 2012-13 general fund spending was just $97 billion, nearly 29 percent lower.

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