ALAMEDA, Calif. — California may be in a tough budget position, but it’s not facing an imminent cash crisis, state financial officials said.
Interest in the state’s cash position flared after Treasurer Bill Lockyer, speaking at a conference over the weekend, said the state could be forced to issue IOUs to some creditors by April or May in the absence of quick action to balance the budget.
California last issued IOUs, or registered warrants, amid a 2009 cash crisis. The registered warrants were given to creditors with lower legal standing to protect cash flows needed for those with higher standing, such as bondholders.
While the state will need to consider cash conservation measures this spring if lawmakers don’t take action to balance the budget, Lockyer misspoke in saying that IOUs would necessarily be the method that’s used, said his spokesman, Tom Dresslar.
“The point the treasurer was trying to make was that the state might have to implement some cash-conservation measures around that time, absent a budget solution,” he said.
“No one wants to issue IOUs, and the treasurer wasn’t predicting that was likely,” Dresslar added.
The state controller’s office has the ultimate authority over managing the state’s cash flows, including the issuance of IOUs.
“There have been various measures that the state has employed over the last several years to manage cash,” said Garin Casaleggio, spokesman for state Controller John Chiang.
Such measures include deferring payments to local governments, interfund borrowing, and simply holding off on paying bills presented by vendors.
IOUs are seen as the last resort for cash management, he said. But they remain a possibility until the state has an honestly balanced budget,.
California’s cash position is strong enough to carry it through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance.
But finance officials need to make contingency plans sooner than that, in case lawmakers don’t take actions to bring the state’s budget and cash flows into balance, and have to do that long before July 1, Palmer said.
“To avoid that specter is one of the reasons the governor has talked about the need for swift action,” he said.
“Clearly it is our hope and expectation that the Legislature will act in a timely manner to begin making the tough but necessary decision the governor has called for in his budget,” according to the spokesman.
Last fall, California issued $10 billion of short-term revenue anticipation notes, which mature before the end of June.
“There is more than ample cash to be sure that the $10 billion in Rans will be repaid on time,” Palmer said. “There is no question about that whatsoever.”