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California State Assembly. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Legislative Intent and Future Budget Appropriations

The Governor and Legislature have been adopting budgets that attempt to make appropriations for more than the current budget year

By Chris Micheli, August 31, 2022 7:22 am

In recent years, California state government has been working on a multi-year budget cycle. This means both the Governor and Legislature have been adopting budgets that attempt to make appropriations for more than the current budget year.

Is that possible, considering a budget bill can only make appropriations for the single budget year? Of course the Legislature can do so, but they cannot “bind a future legislature.” In other words, the current Legislature in 2022 can “intend” to make future year budget appropriations, but those intended appropriations can be changed or eliminated by the 2023 Legislature.

Nonetheless, the practice of making future budget appropriations is becoming more prevalent. For example, in the recent public resources trailer bill, it makes changes to the 2022-23 budget act, but it also “states the intent of the Legislature to allocate $2,415,000,000 for the 2023–24 fiscal year to the 2025–26 fiscal year, inclusive, as provided, for zero-emission vehicle investments, as provided. The bill would state the intent of the Legislature that $500,000,000 be available for the 2023–24 fiscal year and that amount be available for the 2024–25 fiscal year, as provided, to support various climate initiatives.”

This language is unique for two reasons: First, it is merely intent language, which means that it does not have any legal effect. Only an actual appropriation has legal effect. The language in this budget trailer bill is not an actual appropriation because the current year budget bill cannot make budget appropriations in future years.

Second, this language is contained in a budget trailer bill, rather than the budget bill or the budget bill junior (which makes changes to the enacted budget bill). It is a more recent phenomenon for a trailer bill, which has historically been used to make statutory changes needed to implement the budget, to include any appropriation, as well as multiple appropriations in it. Of course, this trailer bill only has intent language, rather than actual appropriations.

This approach to considering future appropriations may be a prudent budget practice, but it may create unrealized expectations in the public’s perception and it obviously cannot bind a future legislature to actually make those appropriations in a future budget bill. This practice will be interesting to monitor in the coming years.

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