LAO chronicles 40 years of California state vs local governance

150 150 Ed Coghlan


For those who pay attention to the governance issues in California, the fiscal tension that exists between Sacramento and our local governments is a long standing problem that needs to be repaired sooner rather than later.

“The importance of fixing this relationship is one of the must-dos if California is to thrive again,” said Jim Mayer, Executive Director of California Forward.

The history of how we got to this place was captured recently by the Legislative Analyst Office, which updated a chart that chronciles the events that have impacted this relationship over the last four decades. (Here’s the full PDF of the chart)

Over the last 40 years, the fiscal landscape for California’s local governments has changed remarkably. During this period, the state’s voters amended the California Constitution to place a rate cap on the largest source of local revenues (the property tax), require voter approval for new local taxes, guarantee a minimum level of state support for schools and community colleges, and restrict the state’s authority to reallocate local revenues. This period also saw many changes in local government program responsibilities, including a recent shift of responsibility (from the state to counties) for supervising nonviolent offenders.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor updated the chart to help Californians better understand this key issue.

“Given the importance of local governments to Californians, our chart summarizes these major changes in local fiscal authority and program responsibilities,” said Taylor.

California Forward’s Mayer, whose organization promotes improved governance in California, thinks the chart in instructive and timely.

“The LAO chart does a great job of documenting the major twists and turns in what is always a complicated and at times rocky relationship between the state and local governments,” said Mayer. “Figuring out how to reduce the conflict and improve the cooperation among governments is one of the most challenging is CA’s greatest governance challenge.  This issue is much bigger in California than any other state because of our size and diversity.”

Taylor provided a bit of a California history lesson. While the focus of the chart is the last forty years, the importance of the local government goes back to the very time that California became a state.

“Long before California was admitted into the union in 1850, the state’s residents were relying on local governments for services.  Today, the list of programs and services that local governments provide includes K-14 education, front line law enforcement, land use planning, water supply, and some health services for the poor,” said Taylor.


Ed Coghlan

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