California’s Deficit Is $222 Billion And The State Is $1.6 Trillion In Debt

California’s Deficit Is $222 Billion And The State Is $1.6 Trillion In Debt
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Governor Gavin Newsom bragged of a surplus, but California is seriously underwater. The next recession will hit the state extremely hard.

While finalizing the upcoming fiscal year’s state budget back in May 2022, California governor Gavin Newsom boasted of an extraordinary projected surplus: $97 billion. The governor immediately collaborated with an enthusiastic state legislature to spend it all. Of course, new spending on new programs and benefits tends to become permanent.

This has happened repeatedly in California. Between fiscal year 2012–13 and fiscal year 2022–23 (the year with the projected $97 billion surplus), per capita general-fund spending doubled, from just over $3,000 per resident to just under $6,000. (All figures are in 2022 inflation-adjusted dollars.)

The State Office of Legislative Analyst’s latest report projects a $73 billion dollar deficit for the next fiscal year. It won’t be easy to paper over this debt, but the state may use its opaque accounting system to hide the ball.

California’s general-fund budgets are reported on a cash basis. The state’s balance sheet, however, uses “accrual-based accounting.” Without getting too far into the weeds, this is an apples v. oranges situation. Instead of the algebraic perfection of private-sector income statements, balance sheets, and cash flows, government accounting provides no easy way to reconcile what you see on the budget.

Some watchdogs, however, have succeeded in cracking the code. John Moorlach, one of the only certified public accountants to serve in the California State Senate, just published a review of the state’s fiscal health, focusing on the balance sheet. According to Moorlach, California’s balance sheet is in trouble.

Moorlach declared in a March California Insider interview that the state “now has the largest unrestricted net deficit in the US: $222 Billion.” In plain English, Moorlach is saying that California’s state government accounts have liabilities that exceed assets by $222 billion. No matter how creative Newsom and his financial wizards may be, someday that money will have to be paid.

A remedy that California has turned to over the years and will undoubtedly turn to now is to accumulate additional long-term debt. Emulating the federal government, but lacking its dollar-printing ability, California’s state and local governments and agencies have racked up over a trillion dollars in debt, primarily in bonds and unfunded pension liabilities. These liabilities, too, must be paid. Since that’s all but impossible, the liabilities must be serviced with payments that, just as at the federal level, will eat up more and more of the operating budgets.

How Much Is California in Debt?

The above link says over a trillion. That’s being very generous to California. Click on it to discover … California State and Local Liabilities exceed $1.6 Trillion.

California’s total state and local government debt now stands at almost $1.6 trillion, or about half the state’s GDP.

That isn’t an alarming ratio when compared to the national debt, which has now soared to 128 percent of U.S. GDP with no end in sight. But Californians carry this $1.6 trillion state and local debt ($40,000 per capita) in addition to their share of the national debt (about $90,000 per capita).

That article was from February of 2022. I suspect the liabilities are now close to $2 trillion.

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A blowback is underway.

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