State and local governments around the country are increasingly feeling the effects of the economic downturn. California – no stranger to fiscal crises – is perhaps the most financially challenged state today.

Facing a $42 billion budget gap, California is the subject of a seemingly endless stream of news coverage and public policy debate. In sifting through the vast array of resources devoted to California’s economy and financial crunch, one web site stands out as particularly informative.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a non-profit public policy organization founded in 1994, conducts research in a variety of policy areas, from education to infrastructure, government, social policy, public finance, and more.

The Institute has published several recent reports that help shed light on California’s most pressing fiscal issues:

  • Paying for Infrastructure: California’s Choices focuses on California’s system for financing its critical infrastructure needs, particularly in light of the state’s increasing financial troubles. “Once an innovator, California now trails other states and many nations in the way it finances infrastructure,” according to a PPIC press release. The report says that the state could position itself to regain its leadership role by resolving issues in three key areas – local funding, user fees, and partnerships with the private sector.
  • California’s Fiscal Restraints: Institutional or Political? examines the policy consequences of requiring a “supermajority” (two-thirds vote) to pass a state budget.
  • Public Bond Financing in California provides a snapshot of municipal bond issuance by the state and its local governments. Prefaced with some primer-like explanations of how bonds work, the report spotlights the increase in borrowing by California local governments and agencies over the past decade. It also includes a graph that tracks California’s bond rating history.

While PPIC does not develop or recommend legislative proposals, its studies often evaluate policy goals and ways to meet them, offers comparative assessments of particular policy goals, and sometimes provides explicit recommendations of policy strategies, according to the web site.