With the tax deadline upon us, many Californians are writing checks to the state with little understanding of how those dollars will be spent. Fresno State associate professor of political science Dr. Jeff Cummins is looking to change that with his new book “Boom and Bust, The Politics of the California Budget.”
Recently published by the UC Berkeley Public Policy Press, the book explores how California’s budget process has evolved over the state’s history and explains the root causes of California’s recent budget programs.
Cummins was motivated to write the book while teaching a course at Fresno State on the state budget. Unable to find a text that provided a comprehensive explanation of the process, Cummins decided to write a book himself.
According to Cummins, the book was initially written to be used in the classroom but is a valuable resource for anyone looking to better understand how and why tax dollars are spent, as well as politics behind the process.
The book includes description and analysis of how the budget process works, how the tax system is structured, and how the state allocates its spending in major areas. Cummins points to “ballot-box budgeting” as one of the main obstacles to budgeting each year. This is when voters make budget decisions through measures placed on the ballot by the initiative process or the legislature.
“The initiative process in California is unique and in the past several decades there have been several initiatives that continue to have significant impact on the budget.” As an example Cummins points to Proposition 98, which earmarked 40 percent of the general fund for K-12 and community college education. He writes in the book that California uses ballot-box budgeting far more frequently than the rest of country.
The book, which was featured by political columnist Dan Walters in The Sacramento Bee in February, was intended to demystify the budget process and give voters a better sense of how their tax dollars are spent. “When we look at public opinion polls you can see a lot of misperception about the budget,” Cummins said. “The public needs to have a better understanding of the constraints that policy makers are operating under, particularly since many of the constraints are imposed by voters themselves.”