california local government finance almanac

local government laws conference materials

Available from Solano Press GuideBk
The most comprehensive treatment of local government finance in any state that I have ever seen. This guide will prove useful to elected and appointed local government officials, business leaders, reporters, students, faculty, and others who are struggling to understand the highly complex world of local government finance in California.
~ Chris McKenzie, Exec.Dir. League of Calif Cities 1999-2016

Available from The League of California Cities MuniRevHandbook The California Municipal Revenue Sources Handbook, NEW! Fifth Edition by Michael Coleman. The definitive resource on municipal funding for city and county managers, finance officers, academics and other professionals engaged in the complex world of municipal finance in California.

COVID-19 - Resources re Municipal Finance

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: Resources

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law a nearly $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill (HR 1319; PL 117-2). Known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the law represents the sixth COVID-19 recovery measure that Congress has passed since last March. Local governments across the country will receive a total of $130.2 billion, including $65.1 billion to counties, and $65.1 billion to cities and towns. California counties will receive at least $7.675 billion. California cities will receive $8.222 billion.

ARPA text and summaries

ARPA Resource Pages

Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF)

ARPA provides $350 billion in flexible fiscal aide to state and local governments in America. Local governments will receive a total of $130.2 billion, including $65.1 billion to counties, and $65.1 billion to cities and towns. The State of California will receive $26 billion. California counties will receive $7.675 billion. California cities will receive $8.222 billion.

CSLFRF funds must be used within certain limits prescribed in law and U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations. Generally, the funds must be used during the period March 3, 2021-December 31, 2024. The funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024, expended by December 31, 2026. The funds may not be spent on extraordinary pension deposits to pay prior obligations (but normal cost payments for currently earned pension benefits are ok), may not be used to replenish rainy day funds or financial reserves, and may not be used for debt obligations or a non-federal match for other federal programs.

CSLFRF Allocations

CSLFRF Eligible Uses, Procedures and Reporting

FEMA COVID-19 Cost Recovery

On March 22, 2020, the President declared the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant a major declaration for the State of California, pursuant to section 501 (b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121-5207). State, Territorial, Tribal, local government entities and certain private non-profit (PNP) organizations are eligible to apply for Public Assistance.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, "CARES Act"

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on March 27, 2020, in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spending includes $300 billion in one-time cash payments to individuals, $260 billion in increased unemployment benefits, a Paycheck Protection Program that provides $669 billion of forgivable loans to small businesses and non-profits, $500 billion in loans for corporations, and $339.8 billion to state and local governments.

Other COVID-19 Resources

Back to Top

Financing California Cities - Overviews and Primers

Revenue Limits: Proposition 13 (1978), Proposition 218 (1996) and Proposition 26 (2010)

Proposition 1A Protection of Local Government Revenues

In November 2004, the voters of California approved Proposition 1A, an amendment to the California state constitution intended to restore predictability and stability to local government budgets.

Note: Proposition 1A does not contain the provisions of the "VLF-for-Property-Tax-Swap of 2004" nor the ERAF III local government contributions. These were part of the State Budget Act of 2004.

California Local Government Governance and Reorganization

Fiscal Condition of Municipalities

Diagnosing and Managing Financial Health

Managing Fiscal Stress and Municipal Bankruptcy

Back to Top

The State-Local Fiscal Relationship

Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF): Property Tax Shifts

In 1992, facing a serious deficit position, the State of California began shifting local property tax revenues from cities, counties and some special districts into these funds to reduce the cost of education to the state general fund.

State-Local Mandates in California

Redevelopment Dissolution under ABx1_26 (2011)

Back to Top

The Fragmentation of Local Finance & Governance

Frozen property tax allocations may not be the most efficient or preferred allocation now. Inefficiencies persist due to the fragmentation of policy and finance among too many local authorities and the decline of general purpose government policy making authority.

Back to Top

The Fiscalization of Land Use

The disconnect between service costs and revenues in urban development impairs the provision of city services and deters balanced planning.

Back to Top

Local Revenues in a Changing World

Back to Top

Local Government Fiscal Reform

There have been more than a dozen task forces, commissions, studies and proposals on local government finance reform over the last decade alone. Here are some articles on the problem, ideas, and analyses of recent proposals. It is important to note that, in 2004, two important changes occurred in the state-local fiscal relationship: the passage of Proposition 1A of 2004, and the swap of $4 billion of state Vehicle License Fee backfill payments to cities and counties for greater shares of local property tax revenues. These major changes make obsolete some of the recommendations in pre-2004 reports.

Background and Overview

Local Government Fiscal Reform - Commissions, Studies and Articles

Legislative Proposals

Selected Presentations by Michael Coleman on California Local Government Finance Reform

Back to Top

Public Employee Pension and Other Post Employment Benefit Costs

Back to Top

Property Tax

The largest source of revenue for city and county government, the complex machinations of California property tax assessment, collection and allocation are understood by few.

Overviews and Statistics

Allocation of Tax Revenues

Property Tax in Lieu of VLF

Assessed Valuation of Real Property for Taxation

Property Tax Administration

Property Transfer Taxes and Documentary Transfer Taxes - see Other Locally Adopted Revenues

Back to Top

Sales & Use Tax

The second largest source of general purpose revenue for cities statewide and the largest for some California cities, the sales and use tax faces a tenuous future. The local component of the sales and use tax is distributed to cities and counties primarily on point-of-sale.

Overviews and Explanations

Data and Statistics

Local Transactions and Use Taxes: "Add On" Sales Taxes

The Sales Tax Triple Flip

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Rule on Use of Revenues

Sales Tax Issues: Interagency Competition, Allocation, Concentration, Local Kickbacks

Sales Tax Issues: Remote & Internet Sales, Simplification and Conformity (Also see above section)

Sales Tax Issues: Base Broadening, Exemptions

Back to Top

Utility User's Tax

Back to Top

Other Locally Adopted Revenues: Business Tax, Hotel Tax and Others.

Back to Top

Local Tax Votes

Analyses of Local Revenue Measures in California

Summary Reports and Analyses of Elections - California Local Ballot Measures

Resources for Local Ballot Measure Efforts

  • Resources for Ballot Measure Activities. Explainations of the restrictions on using public resources (including staff time, agency supplies and other resources paid for with taxpayer dollars) for ballot measure activities. Institute for Local Government.
Back to Top

VLF: The Motor Vehicle In-Lieu Tax

Established in 1935 as a uniform statewide tax, the VLF is a tax on the ownership of a registered vehicle in place of taxing vehicles as personal property. By law, all revenues from the VLF fund city and county services, but the state legislature controls the tax rate and the allocation among local governments. In 2004, the Legislature permanently reduced the VLF tax rate and eliminated state general fund backfill to cities and counties. Instead, cities and counties now receive additional transfers of property tax revenues in lieu of VLF.

Property Tax in Lieu of VLF, also called Vehicle License Fee Adjustment Amount (VLFAA) is Property Tax, not VLF. It should be budgeted, accounted for, and reported as property tax, not VLF and not intergovernmental. To avoid confusion, it should be called "Property Tax in Lieu of VLF" and not "VLF."

VLF for Incorporations and Annexations

Property Tax in Lieu of VLF

See under Property Tax

Back to Top

State Funding

Regarding infrastructure bond funds, see "2006 Infrastructure Bonds: Proposition 1B, 1C, 84" under California State Budget.
Regarding the history and issues surrounding state funding of California municipalities, see "The State-Local Fiscal Relationship."
Regarding transportation funds (local streets and roads funds, etc., see "Transportation Funding."

State grants and local assistance

California State Grants Portal administered by the California State Library.
California Department of Water Resources. Grant and loan programs that support integrated water management activities addressing environmental stewardship, water supply reliability, public safety, and economic stability.
California Department of Housing and Community Development. State and federal grants and loans for rental and homeownership, including veterans, seniors, young families starting out, people with disabilities, farmworkers, and individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.
California Commission on State Mandates Info on reimbursable state mandates.
California Department of Transportation Local assistance programs.
California Department of Parks and Recreation Grants and Local Services.
California Energy Commission Energy Partnership Program.

Back to Top

Federal Grants in Aid

Back to Top

Transportation Funding

Overviews and Issue Briefs

Transportation Funding Sources

Back to Top

City Program Expenditures

Back to Top

Reserves and Fund Balance

Back to Top

The Gann Appropriations Limit

Back to Top

Municipal Debt Financing

Back to Top

California State Budget: Content and Analysis.

Regarding impacts of the state budget on municipalities see "Cities and the California State Budget."

Back to Top

Links to Sites with More Data and Reports

Data: Socio-Economic
The Data Source Handbook A list of state, federal and private data providers in subject areas related to the people of California. California Department of Finance.
California Department of Finance - Demographic estimates and projections
California Department of Finance - Economic estimates and projections
California Department of Finance - Price and Population Data for the Calculation of Appropriation Limits. Go to bottom of the page.
California Department of Finance - Statistical Abstract. 2000 through 2008. Discontinued after 2008.
California Department of Finance - Monthly Economic and Revenue Updates
California Employment Development Department Labor Market Information.

California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) California Consumer Price Index (CPI)
United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Western Region, CPI Summaries

U.S. Census Guide: How to Get the Most Out of from
U.S. Census Bureau Government Statistics Census of Governments, Government Finance and Employment Classification Manual, Governments Integrated Directory public employment & payroll, federal state and local government finance, public employee retirement systems, state and local government tax collections, federal expenditures, Federal Audit Clearinghouse, criminal justice statistics, elementary-secondary education statistics, library statistics.
U.S. Census Bureau - Local Government Employment Data. Statewide summary.
U.S. Census Bureau - Employment of Major Local Governments
U.S. Census Bureau - California (or other state) Quick Facts. State and county demographic statistics and more.
U.S. Census Bureau - California QuickLinks. Various datasets on California.
American Community Survey US Census Bureau community level data. Updated estimates of social and economic characteristics for California, counties, incorporated cities and Census Designated Places. U.S. Census Bureau
. Selected data from the American Community Survey from the California Department of Finance.

US Department of Housing and Urban Development "State of the Cities Data System" Data for individual metropolitan areas, central cities, and suburbs. Detailed demographic and economic characteristics of the population; unemployment rates; information on jobs, business establishments, and average pay in the 1990s; and FBI crime data.

California State Board of Equalization Monthly Economic Perspective Newsletter
State Controller's Monthly Analysis of State General Fund Cash Flow and Economic Snapshot.

California Department of Transportation Division of Transportation Information System Information. A variety of California streets and highways statistics.
National Association for Business Economics.
DataQuick Real Estate News. Home sales, pricing, and mortgage charts and statistics.
Financial Forecast Center. An assortment of US economic data and forecasts. Profiles of US cities and towns with graphs and data drawn from a wide variety of sources.
California Online Directory. State employee phone / address directory

Data: Government Finance

State Budget

California State Budget Includes summary charts and tables on various state and local revenues.
Next-Ten. Well crafted informational tools regarding California's Budget and Infrastructure.


State and Local Revenue Collections and Allocations

US Bureau of Economic Analysis
California Department of Finance reports
Monthly Finance Bulletin California Department of Finance.
California State Board of Equalization Annual Reports sales and use tax, property tax, motor vehicle fuel license tax, and more data on BOE administered revenues.
BOE Monthly Economic Perspective Newsletter
BOE Tax Overviews. Explanatory materials on various BOE administered taxes.
California State Controller's Office Local Government Apportionments. Reports of allocations of State Controller administered state revenues to local governments, state mandate reimbursements and other information.
California State Controller Guides, Manuals, and Reference Materials for local agencies Accounting, expenditure and auditing standards and references.
California Franchise Tax Board Annual Reports. Concerning FTB administered taxes.
State Tax Tables Comparative tax information among states. Compiled by the Urban Institute / Brookings Institution.


Local Government Revenues and Spending

State Controller's Office Local Government Annual Reports. Reported revenues and spending for California local governments - some back to 1910. (Available here. Inexplicably no longer available from SCO). City and County financial data from annual reports submitted to the state controller since 2003. Selectable data with nifty instant displays.
NOTE: although the data is much less accessible, the annual reports, inexplicably no longer published by SCO, provide useful summary detail and an understanding of the relational structure of the data - see link above)
NOTE: Data files on this site (also from state Contoller reports) provide detail by city back to 1991, more detailed breakdown, per capita adjustments and more. See for example Property Tax by city.

California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission publications including debt issuance data and issue briefs.
US Census Bureau Government Statistics including Census of Governments
Summary of State and Local Finances.

The HdL Companies Briefing sheets and data on local sales taxes and property taxes.


Grants and local assistance
State Grants Database. Listing of grant programs administered by the state of California.
California Coastal Commission Local Coastal Program Grants.
California Department of Housing and Community Development Loan and grant programs.
California Commission on State Mandates Info on reimbursable state mandates.
California Department of Transportation Local assistance programs.
California Department of Parks and Recreation Grants and Local Services.

Back to Top

Articles / Analysis / Opinion

Western City Magazine Monthly magazine of the League of California Cities.
Public Policy Institute of California A private, nonprofit organization dedicated to independent, nonpartisan research on California's economic, social, and political issues.
The Tax Policy Center. Provides analysis and facts about tax policy. A joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.
National League of Cities special reports
Legislative Analyst's Office Provider of fiscal and programmatic expertise and nonpartisan analyses of the state's budget to the California Legislature.
CalTaxDigest articles from the California Taxpayers Association.
California Research Bureau reports, an office of the California State Library.
California Budget & Policy Center A nonprofit research and public education organization addressing state fiscal policy.

Back to Top

Law & Legislation

State Law
California Constitution, Searchable. California Legislative Counsel.
California Law Codes, Searchable. California Legislative Counsel.
California Administrative Regulations. California Office of Administrative Law.
California Court Decisions. Judicial Council of California.
Attorney General Opinions. California Attorney General's Office.
Federal and State Laws, Cases and Codes from FindLaw
California Municipal Law Handbook League of California Cities.
Colantuono, Highsmith, Whatley, PC. Papers reviewing the latest legal issues in California local government finance.
State Legislation
Daily File: California State Senate (includes links to listen where available)
State Senate Hearings - Audio and television
Governance and Finance Committee, California State Senate
Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, California State Senate

Daily File: California State Assembly (includes links to listen where available)
State Assembly Hearings - Audio and television
Local Government Committee, California State Assembly
Revenue and Taxation Committee, California State Assembly
Other info on the State Assembly, its procedures and its members

Search California Legislation. Searchable, includes text, status, votes and committee analyses. California Legislative Counsel.
California Legislative and Legal History index. UCSF Hastings Law Library.
Legislative Analyst's Office Non-partisan advisor to the State Legislature.
Board of Equalization Legislative Analyses and Bulletins including bills concerning property taxes and sales taxes.
The Roundup. Daily news from the state capitol.

Court Decisions
California Courts Home Page
Slip Opinions of CA Court Decisions
Ninth Circuit Opinions Since 6/95
Findlaw Search of Ninth Circuit Opinions Since 1996
Findlaw Search of CA Supreme Court & Appellate Court Opinions 1934 - Present
City and County Law and Legislation
California City and County Codes and Charters (UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies Library).
California Land Use Planning Information Network information relating to California land use planning issues including city and county zoning ordinances, environmental assessment documents, maps, plans, photos, reports/publications, and spatial data.
California Local Planning Documents Database (UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies Library) - Searchable database of city and county planning documents collected by the IGS Library.
California Ballot Propositions
Legislative Analyst's Office's analysis of current and recent ballot propositions
California Secretary of State's Ballot Pamphlets On-line 1996 onward.
California Secretary of State's Ballot Initiative Updates.
Legislative Analyst's Office's fiscal analyses of proposed initiatives
California Attorney General: Initiative Measures in circulation . Full text of proposed initiative measures.
California Ballot Propositions Historic since 1884. Hastings College Law Library.

Back to Top


League of California Cities
Institute for Local Government (ILG)
National League of Cities (NLC)
International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
US Conference of Mayors
Counties and County Finance Officials
California State Association of Counties (CSAC)
California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors California State Association of County Auditors
County Auditor and Tax Collector Names and Contact Information State Controllers Office.
Finance Officers and Treasurers
California Society of Municipal Finance Officers (CSMFO)
California Committee on Municipal Accounting (CCMA) white papers at CSMFO
California Municipal Treasurers Association (CMTA)
California Municipal Revenue and Tax Association (CMRTA)
Government Finance Officers Association of the United State and Canada (GFOA)
Special Districts
California Special Districts Association (CSDA)
Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)
California Association of Recreation and Park Districts (CARPD)
Municipal Management Assistants of Northern California (MMANC)
Municipal Management Assistance of Southern California (MMASC)
California State Library Association
California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions (CaLAFCo)
California Communities (California Statewide Communities Development Authority - CSCDA)
Cities, Counties and Schools Partnership (CCS)
California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA)
California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED)
California Association of Councils of Governments
American Planning Association. California Chapter
California Planners' Book of Lists by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research. 2011 Edition.
Prior years editions: 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996

Back to Top

History & Conditions Issues Issues (continued) Revenues Expenditures

The California State Budget

Useful Data and Info