BUDGET DECIDER: Making choices that impact millions

By Judy Lin and John Osborn D’Agostino

California lawmakers have passed a $215 billion budget filled with progressive eye-catchers such as health coverage for low-income young adults regardless of legal status, and expanded tax credits for the working poor. Tucked into the pages were a couple of new taxes, including a state penalty for people who go without health insurance and a phone bill fee to upgrade the 911 emergency system.

But what if you had the awesome power to tax and spend, charting a new course for California?

Would you eliminate the property tax caps of Proposition 13? How about reducing income taxes—and if so, for whom? Would you build a bullet train from north to south, or fund universal preschool?

We designed this interactive to improve your understanding of where taxes come from and where all that money goes. Let’s build your version of the Golden State!


Personal Income Tax

California’s progressive income tax rates range from 1% to 13.3%. As a result, the rich contribute half of the state’s income tax revenue. Would you...

Eliminate the tax [-$100 billion]

You just stopped educating 6 million children.

Keep as is [CURRENT]

Teach the children well-ish.

Double the Millionaire’s Tax [+$2.4 billion]

Provide extra mental health services.

Source: California Department of Finance (link and link)

Sales Tax

The state imposes a 7.25% sales tax on manufactured goods with local governments adding on to the tax. It’s the slowest-growing pot because tax codes haven’t been updated to capture technological changes or the growth of services in the economy. Would you…

Eliminate the tax [-$40 billion]

Drain funding for higher education and prisons.

Keep as is [CURRENT]

Subsidize the good and the bad of society.

Sales tax 2.0 [+$14.2 billion]

Lower sales tax to 5% but start collecting it on professional services such as accounting, legal, and real estate.

Source: CalChamber (link)

Property Tax

California’s property tax cap known as Proposition 13 has disproportionately benefited the wealthy and indirectly contributes to high housing costs. Would you...

Leave Prop. 13 as is [CURRENT]

Don’t mess with my obscene property value.

Charge businesses market rate [+$11 billion]

Charge businesses market rate.

Undo tax cap for homeowners [+$30 billion]

Undo tax cap for homeowners.

Source: Schools and Communities First (link) and CALmatters/Zillow (link)

Corporate Tax

Corporations pay anywhere from 1.5% to 10.84% depending on the type of business. Would you...

Eliminate it [-$13.2 billion]

Businesses need tax breaks.

Keep as is [CURRENT]

We’re still the 5th largest economy in the world.

Raise the rates some [+$4.3 billion]

Enough to make UC and CSU tuition free.

Source: California Department of Finance (link) and Los Angeles Times (link)

Oil Severance Tax

34 states tax oil and gas production. California is not among them. Would you...

Keep as is [CURRENT]

Pump as we please.

Charge 10% on each barrel of oil [+$900 million]

Enough to cover new tax credits for working families.

Source: Bill information (link) and Los Angeles Times (link)

Gas Tax

Drivers currently pay extra at the pump to fund roads, bridges and other repairs. Would you...

Repeal the tax [-$5.1 billion]

There’s a surplus, use that!

Pave it forward [CURRENT]

Drivers need to chip in to fill potholes.

Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office (link)


The lottery only generates 1.5% of public education funding. Still, a billion dollars is a billion dollars. Would you...

Stop playing games [-$1 billion]

Gambling is a vice.

Let it ride [CURRENT]

Generate spare change for K-12 and colleges.

Source: California Lottery (link)

Obamacare: California edition

The Legislature is stepping in after the federal government repealed the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. California will require residents to carry health coverage or face a $695 yearly penalty. Would you...

Repeal it [-$295 million]

Let the uninsured rate go up to 12.9%.

Go with the mandate [CURRENT]

Use the penalties on bigger health subsidies.

Source: California Department of Finance (link)

911 Fee

California is upgrading its 911 emergency system from analog to digital. It plans to pay for it through an additional monthly fee on each phone line. Would you...

No thanks [-$115 million]

I pay enough in phone fees.

Upgrade, upgrade [CURRENT]

The fee will be no more than 80 cents a month.

Source: California Department of Finance (link)

Rainy Day Fund

California was on the brink of becoming a failed state during the Great Recession and has learned to save for a rainy day. Would you…

Draw it down [+$16.5 billion]

Think of the money for schools and the poor.

Maintain the piggy bank [CURRENT]

Leave the current $20 billion rainy day fund.

Double it [-$16.5 billion]

We’ll need $33 billion in a recession.

Source: California Department of Finance (link)


High Speed Rail

An ambitious and massive rail project would connect California from San Diego to San Francisco via taxes on polluters under the state’s cap and trade program. Savings could only go to other clean energy projects, so forget using bullet train money to, say, house the homeless. Still, would you...

Realize the dream [-$77 billion]

Screw the feds. Let’s build it ourselves.

Chip away at the dream [CURRENT]

Continue using 25% of cap and trade proceeds.

Stop the train to nowhere [+$600 million]

Redirect funds to other greenhouse gas reduction.

Source: Los Angeles Times (link)

Shelter the Homeless

California has 25% of the nation’s homeless population. That’s an estimated 130,000. Of course, a major driver is our lack of affordable housing. Would you...

One-time infusion [CURRENT]

Let local governments build and maintain emergency shelters.

Keep as is [+$650 million]

Respect the principle of individual responsibility even though communities pay for a homeless person to be on the street.

Source: CALmatters (link) and National Alliance to End Homelessness (link)

Affordable Housing

An estimated 1.7 million low-income renters spend more than half of their income on housing. No wonder we have a housing crisis. Would you...

Nip the problem at the stud [-$250 billion]

Start issuing hefty bonds to build affordable units.

Go with the plan [CURRENT]

Expand housing tax credits and grants.

No new help [+$1 billion]

People who can’t afford to live here should leave.

Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office (link)

Teacher Stimulus

From Los Angeles to Sacramento, teachers have gone on strike over pay fights and insufficient resources. Would you...

Raise the wage [-$8 billion]

Give every teacher $100,000.

Keep as is [CURRENT]

The average teacher pay is already $79,000.

Source: CALmatters calculation based off Department of Education figures (link)

Early Learning

Child care and preschool not only allow parents to keep working but set children up for success. Would you...

Sing B-I-N-G-O [-$8 billion]

Provide universal child care and preschool.

More help [CURRENT]

Add thousands of preschool slots, boost training.

We’re doing enough [+$1.8 billion]

Some families continue to wait for subsidized slots.

Source: Sacramento Bee (link) and EdSource (link)

Free College

Tuition at public and private colleges has skyrocketed, leaving students in debt. Would you...

Keep as is [+$45 million]

The state already spends $18 billion year on higher education.

Tuition Free [-$4.3 billion]

Make UC and CSU tuition free.

Tuition Free Lite [CURRENT]

New budget makes two years of community college free for full-time students.

Source: Los Angeles Times (link) and CALmatters (link)

Pay Pensions

Projections show the retirement promises made to state workers and teachers will continue to grow. Would you...

Pay as you go [+$7.25 billion]

Contribute the minimum to state and teachers’ pensions.

Pay it down some [CURRENT]

Make extra deposits while we have a surplus.

Pay it off [-$256 billion]

Don’t charge the next generation.

Source: CALmatters (link and link)

Health Access

California was quick to embrace the Affordable Care Act and is now charting a course toward universal health coverage. Would you...

Stop the entitlement [+$35 billion]

Kill the whole Medi-Cal program and forego $66 billion in federal funds.

Block undocumented immigrants [+$132 million]

Stop covering 170,000 undocumented children.

Yes to all young adults [CURRENT]

Expand coverage to 90,000 low-income adults ages 19-25.

Access for All [-$17 billion]

Private coverage for remaining 3 million uninsured.

Source: California Department of Finance (link and link), CALmatters (link) and SF Chronicle (link)

Tax Credits For Working Poor

The governor is making the Earned Income Tax Credit his signature anti-poverty program by giving $1,000 for children under 6 and raising income eligibility to $30,000. Would you…

Stop the handout [+$1.6 billion]

The poor should not get a cost-of-living refund.

Keep as is [+$1.2 billion]

We’re already helping 2 million families.

Agree with Newsom [CURRENT]

We could be helping 3 million families.

Source: Bill information (link)

Water Storage

To cope with wild swings between floods and droughts, California needs more water storage. Would you…

Keep as is [CURRENT]

We should conserve water.

Build more surface storage [-$6.5 billion]

Construct the Sites Reservoir and raise Shasta Dam.

Put it back [-$58.5 billion]

Replenish the groundwater we’ve sucked out.

Source: Sources: Stanford (link) and News Deeply (link)

$19.4 billion


Submit Budget

Personal Income Tax

Eliminate the tax

Keep as is

Double the Millionaire’s Tax

Sales Tax

Eliminate the tax

Keep as is

Sales tax 2.0

Property Tax

Leave Prop. 13 as is

Charge businesses market rate

Undo tax cap for homeowners

Corporate Tax

Eliminate it

Keep as is

Raise the rates some

Oil Severance Tax

Keep as is

Charge 10% on each barrel of oil

Gas Tax

Repeal the tax

Pave it forward


Stop playing games

Let it ride

Obamacare: California edition

Repeal it

Go with the mandate

911 Fee

No thanks

Upgrade, upgrade

Rainy Day Fund

Draw it down

Maintain the piggy bank

Double it

High Speed Rail

Realize the dream

Chip away at the dream

Stop the train to nowhere

Shelter the Homeless

One-time infusion

Keep as is

Affordable Housing

Nip the problem at the stud

Go with the plan

No new help

Teacher Stimulus

Raise the wage

Keep as is

Early Learning

Sing B-I-N-G-O

More help

We’re doing enough

Free College

Keep as is

Tuition Free

Tuition Free Lite

Pay Pensions

Pay as you go

Pay it down some

Pay it off

Health Access

Stop the entitlement

Block undocumented immigrants

Yes to all young adults

Access for All

Tax Credits For Working Poor

Stop the handout

Keep as is

Agree with Newsom

Water Storage

Keep as is

Build more surface storage

Put it back

Back to Budget