LOS ANGELES - A revised budget released this week by California Gov. Pete Wilson includes a proposal to issue $5 billion of revenue anticipation warrants that would not mature until April 1996.
By contrast, the governor's May budget revision proposed having the state sell $6.5 billion in revenue anticipation notes this summer.
Assuming the $5 billion warrant sales occurs in July, the governors' revised spending plan calls for a smaller Ran sale of $2 billion. Such notes must be repaid in the same fiscal year they are issued, while the warrants can mature in a later fiscal year.
In a related development Monday, the state attorney general's office said it could issue an unqualified opinion that the $5 billion warrant sale constitutes a legal and binding obligation of California.
The opinion, however, is subject to a qualification that the appropriation for retiring the warrants "is based on probable or reasonably anticipated revenues," according to a letter sent from Floyd Shimomura, senior assistant attorney general, to Russell Gould, director of the California Department of Finance.
"Under the two-year cash plan assumed in your inquiry, the Raw will be repaid from state revenues resulting from projected receipts," the letter said. The plan also anticipates "a two-year expenditure reduction program adopted into law in conjuction with the passage of the 1994-95 and 1995-96 state budgets which will be sufficient in amount to repay the $5 billion Raw in approximately April 1996 without resort to additional external Raw borrowing," the letter said.
Shimomura also noted that the principal authority for warrant issuance is vested in the state controller. Accordingly, the controller's office would have to be satisfied that "probable or reasonably anticipated revenues" will be available to repay the warrants in April 1996.
The attorney general's opinion is needed because any short-term borrowings must avoid running afoul of a state constitutional debt limit.
Shimomura's letter observed that state courts "have interpreted the state debt limit in practical manner so as to prohibit deliberate deficit financing, yet permit responsible public officials the flexibility to respond to ~cash flow' problems within a fiscal year and to respond to ~carryover' deficits which sometimes arise between fiscal years."
However, sizing of a warrant issue must hinge on a reasonable assumption that enough revenues will be collected to pay off the debt, rather than relying on yet another borrowing to roll the obligation over, the letter said.
To ensure that state receipts pay off the warrants by April 1996, Wilson this week outlined a two-year expenditure reduction plan that is needed to support the proposed cash management plan.
H.D. Palmer, assistant director of the finance department, said yesterday that the state faces a "$4 billion problem" in the fiscal 1995 budget year that begins July 1.
Palmer said the revised budget uses spending reductions and other adjustments to fix $3 billion of the accumulated deficit in fiscal 1995. Under the plan, the state will carry over the other $1 billion of the deficit into fiscal 1996.
Wilson's plan also calls for achieving further spending reductions in the event that revenues, including any anticipated federal funds, are not received as expected.
On Monday, Wilson essentially acknowledge that the federal government is not going to provide immigration-related funding at levels anywhere near those estimated in earlier budget proposals. However, some observers believe the revised budget still takes a rosy view of expected aid from the federal government.
Wilson's revised budget sets the stage for final budget negotiations with state lawmakers.
Some in the Democratic-controlled legislature are expected to seek fewer cuts than the Republican governor has proposed. Wilson, is adamantly opposed to any tax increases, which means some lawmakers might face a choice between accepting the governor's proposed cuts or lessening the blow by pushing more of the deficit into fiscal 1996.
The budget debate also could be especially heated because of the looming gubernatorial election in November, in which Wilson will square off against Kathleen Brown, the state treasurer.