ATLANTA - As South Carolina awaits a final tally on fiscal 1992 revenue collections, budget officials are bracing to deal with a projected shortfall that could exceed $65 million.

The stakes are particularly, high this summer as the state's latest budget woes come after Standard & Poor's Corp. put South Carolina general obligation debt on CreditWatch with a negative outlook.

In March, the rating agency said the AAA rating was imperiled by a trend of increasing budget and operating deficits.

"As we stated when we put the state on Credit Watch in March, we are looking for improvement by the end of fiscal 1992," said Steve Murphy, a director at Standard and Poor's. "If it did occur [the revenue shortfall], it wouldn't look good."

A staff report from the state comptroller's office recently estimated that shortfall at $64.6 million, based on a preliminary calculation, that actual 1992 revenues would total $3.32 billion. The state had based its fiscal 1992 budget on expected revenues of $3.385 billion.

Barbara Hevener, assistant comptroller general, said she could not present a more precise accounting of revenues collected for fiscal 1992 until Aug. 18.

Although South Carolina ends its fiscal year on June 30, she explained, the state traditionally does not make a final tally of collections for the year until after July.

State Treasurer Grady Patterson on Friday downplayed the estimated deficit, saying it was "over-stated."

"We have the mechanism and authority to deal with any problem." Mr. Patterson added. "We will do what has to be done to bring things back in balance."

Mr. Patterson said about $60 million - including the state's $38 million general fund reserve, about $15 million in authorized but unspent appropriations, and $5 million in accrued sales taxes - could be used to help offset any shortfall brought forward from the 1992 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

State budget officials had been encouraged when state revenues had improved earlier this year, with collections during January, February, and March significantly above year-earlier levels. However, collections in May and June lagged expectations.

During the last fiscal year, state budget officials were forced to cut spending by $128 million. The last round of cuts occurred in February, when $33 million was cut.

South Carolina has had an operating deficit in the last two fiscal years, with spending outpacing revenues by $82.9 million in 1990 and $173.7 million in 1991. The fiscal 1991 operating deficit occurred despite $83 million of sales tax revenues being pushed back to June 1991 from July.

In placing the state's GOs on CreditWatch, Standard & Poor's said the state's "weakened financial performance and position, coupled with a weakened economic base, could result in a lowering of [its] credit to the double-A category."

"For the triple-A rating to be maintained," the statement continued, "S&P will look for the state to balance fiscal 1992 operations, provide structural balance between revenues and expenditures in the fiscal 1993 budget, and begin to address the accumulated deficit."

South Carolina has $853 million of general obligation debt outstanding. Moody's Investors Service rates that debt Aaa.

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