California State Controller's seal


The following are definitions of some of the terms commonly used on the “State Finances 101” pages:

An appropriation is an authorization by the Legislature generally through the annual budget process, Constitution or an initiative for a specific agency to make expenditures from a specific fund for a specific purpose. Appropriations are not necessarily equivalent to the amount that is actually spent.

Ballot Measure
A ballot measure is a proposed law that is submitted to the California electorate for approval in a direct vote. Measures can be constitutional amendments or statutes.

General Obligation Bond Funds
Funds that come from the sale of General Obligation bonds.

An expenditure refers to the amount of actual cash disbursed, or paid, to a specific program, agency or person by the State Controller’s Office. General Fund expenditures refer to the amount disbursed from the General Fund.

Federal Funds
Money received from the federal government for use by state and local agencies administering specific programs.

Fiscal Year (FY)
All State accounting is done on a 12-month fiscal year basis. In California state government, the fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30 of the following year. For example, a reference to the state’s FY 2008-09 means the time period beginning July 1, 2008, and ending June 30, 2009. This is different than the federal fiscal year, which begins October 1 and ends September 30 of the following year.

An account used to separate money or resources for specific obligations in the state treasury.

Money paid out or spent.

General Fund - General Fund (GF)
The General Fund is the main fund that pays for state programs that are not paid from other specified sources. It is the main destination for personal income, sales, and corporate taxes that are collected. Policymakers and media most commonly refer to the General Fund when they discuss the overall budget and funding for programs.

General Obligation Bond (GO)
A form of long-term borrowing that must be approved by a majority vote of the public. The California Constitution requires all interest on GO debt, and principal when due, to be repaid before all other obligations of the state except those for K-14 education.

Local Assistance
Expenditures made to support local government activities such as education, and to administer state health and welfare programs at the local level.

Mandate (Federal or State)
Any provision in statute, regulation, or a court ruling that orders State, local, or tribal governments to take certain actions. Mandates may be unfunded or tied to participation in a voluntary program.

Per Capita
Per person.

Per Capita Income
The average state income per person, which is calculated by dividing the total income in the state by the population.

Revenues are money received from taxes, licenses, fees, or investment earnings. They are deposited into a specific fund and cannot be used until they are appropriated for a specific purpose.

Special Fund
A fund created to budget and account for taxes, licenses, and fees collected, which are designated for a particular purpose or activity of the government.

State Operations
Expenditures for the support of state government activities and programs, such as the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches, and higher education.

A law enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor (or a vetoed bill overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses.)

Tax Expenditure / Relief
Money that the State gives as a subsidy to taxpayers and businesses through tax deductions, tax credits, or tax breaks on income or expenditures that would otherwise have been taxable.

Transfers are the movement of resources from one fund to another based on legislative authorization or appropriation.

Note: The definitions used in this Glossary are modified primarily from the Department of Finance’s Glossary of Accounting and Budgeting Terms.

Back to State Finances 101 Main Page