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Money pie
California will likely end this year with a $2.4 billion surplus. Does this mean nonprofits and the communities we serve will get bigger slices of the pie? Possibly, in time. But before we get out our pie slicers and start carving our shares of the state’s General Fund, we need to apply some perspective.


Thanks in part to the advocacy of nonprofits on Prop 30 in 2012, the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advising body to the California Legislature, projects that fiscal year 2013-14 will close with a surplus of $2.4 billion in July. The LAO projects the following fiscal year to close with a surplus of $5.6 billion, with as much as $10 billion in reserves to accumulate by 2018.

This is certainly good news for California. It demonstrates some economic recovery, and it shows the immediate benefits of Prop 30, which temporarily increased state sales tax from 7.25% to 7.5% and increased income tax rates for California’s highest earners. CalNonprofits supported Prop 30 and the advocacy of nonprofits around the state contributed significantly to its passage.

Does this increase in revenue mean restored public funding for services in our communities and more resources for the nonprofits that provide them? 

First, $2.4 billion isn’t a lot of money when compared to the $96.2 billion we’ll spend from the General Fund this piggy bank calculatorfiscal year. Think of it this way: if you had $100, would you get excited about another $2.40?

Second, there’s more interest from the Legislature and the Governor to use the surplus to pay down the state’s debt and put money in the state’s reserves, rather than to spend it.

So now may not be the time to expect increased funding for the programs and services we provide and that benefit the communities we serve. We may have to let the pie cook a little longer (and cool!) before we go to slicing it up.

But that doesn’t mean to put the slicers back in the drawer; it means to sharpen them up and keep your budget advocacy efforts alive. Because when it comes to advocating on the budget, a few things are always true, whether the budget is shrinking or growing.

Truth 1: There is no down time for state budgeting so there is no down time for budget advocacy. While the budget process is more public and accessible between when the Governor releases his initial proposal in January to when the Legislature (hopefully) approves a budget in July, negotiations and calculations for the coming year happen all the time. So whether times are lean or fat, “now” is always a good time to advocate for what you want.

Truth 2: While you don’t always get what you advocate for, you almost certainly won’t get what you don’t advocate for. Countless interests, some of them extremely powerful, compete to influence the distribution of the General Fund. Because nonprofits advocate using ideas rather than campaign contributions, we usually have to advocate harder and longer - sometimes decades - to get what we need in the state budget. So whether there is a budget deficit or surplus, “now” is always the time to advocate for what we want.

The Time Is NowTruth 3: Policy proposals that create cost savings may have a better chance of being passed through the budget process than by going through the usual committee and floor processes of policy bills, especially if the proposal is politically controversial (such as criminal justice reform). So again, whether the word from inside the Capitol is to hold tight with the budget or to grow, “now” can be a great time for nonprofits to use the budget process to achieve what we want.

Our sector has come a long way in developing advocacy savvy, and our influence on policy in Sacramento has grown a lot in recent years. But our ability to influence the state budget on behalf of the communities we serve is much less robust. Because the budget process is opaque and complex, our victories have been few and we have a lot to learn.

In the coming years, CalNonprofits will be partnering with organizations around the state to raise awareness of budget advocacy and help nonprofits better understand how to influence the budget process. We welcome your input, stories and suggestions as we develop this effort. Together we’ll have our pie slicers sharp and ready to serve real investment in the communities we serve.






0 # joel blackwell 2013-12-12 07:31
Elected officials need to know their constituents care a lot and specifically what they care about... your cause. One of the most powerful tools you have has become one of the least used: A postal letter, especially hand written. At this holiday time, a thank you for help in the past is worth a lot and will be remembered. How many hand written thank you notes do you think elected officials receive?
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