LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Pete Wilson of California has signed legislation that will delay until 1992 a novel earthquake insurance plan that could be funded by a large revenue bond issue.
The program had been scheduled to start this month under a law passed last year. But implementation has been postponed to Jan. 1, 1992, to ensure that the plan is properly funded.
Bond sales still may help to fund the program, but "it's premature" to predict their role until further financial analysis is completed, said Richard Holden, project manager in the state's insurance department for the California Residential Earthquake Recovery Fund.
State officials have said previously that the insurance plan coud be funded by up to $1 billion of taxable revenue bonds.
California created the recovery fund last year to help pay for home owners' earthquake damage left uncovered by private insurance carriers. Earthquake policies generally include a high deductibel, often equal to 10% of a home's value.
The insurance plan would impose a yearly surcharge on home owners, ranging from $12 to $60 depending on location and type of structure. It would provide coverage of up to $15,000, subject to a deductible of up to $3,000.
Earlier this year, however, the state's insurance commissioner and others expressed concern that the program is underfunded and could be depleted by alrge claims in its early years.
The program plans soon to hire a firm that can do loss-estimation work for the insurance program. Once the actuarial study is finished, state officials can set a surcharge -- and determine the level of coverage and deductibles -- to ensure the program's soundness, Mr. Holden added.
The recovery fund also is studying the possibility of using reinsurers to lay off some of the risk, he said. Some of these reinsurers have suggested that bond proceeds would be one way to provide collateral security, thereby making the program more attractive to them, Mr. Holden added.
Bond issues, which would be secured by the surcharge, are expected to be sold on a taxable basis because of the program's private-purpose nature.
Questions have also been raised about whether bonds would be sold before or after an earthquake occurred. Mr. Holden said no decisions wil be made in that regard until further financial analysis is completed.
Some state officials have suggested selling bonds after an earthquake to avoid the financing costs associated with having bonds outstanding. But others have noted that an up-front bond sale would provide an immediate pool of money and avoid market-access problems in the wake of a disaster.
Mr. Holden has stressed previously that concern about any underfunding of the program stems from actuarial considerations, not from the ability to repay bonds. The surcharge -- which would raise about $250 million a year even under terms of the old proposal -- is expected to be more than adequate to cover debt service on a large bond issue.