In the Hunt for a Red October

California's precarious budget situation appears to be driving the state closer to potential fiscal ruin. The state is now 28 days into a new fiscal year, operating without a budget, and the deadlocked legislature in Sacramento appears unable and/or unwilling to strike a deal on a new budget able to cover the state's massive $19 billion deficit.

With no fix on the immediate horizon, California faces a cash shortage. State Controller John Chiang claims that at current burn rates, the state will find itself out of cash by October if the budget impasse continues. In order to sustain the state's remaining reserves for as long as possible, Chiang plans to start issuing IOUs to contractors "in August or September to preserve cash".

Today, in another effort to defer the date the state will run out of funds, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued an executive order requiring state employees to "take three unpaid days off per month." This move comes in the wake of the Governor's proposal to impose minimum wage pay on state workers to save money, currently stuck in the courts.

If the state legislature is unable to find a solution to the deficit, and creditors prove unwilling to accept more IOU's, California may be forced to effectively default on its debts. According to Newgeography contributor Bill Watkins, under such a scenario bond issues could fail, state operations grind to a halt, and the "mother of all financial crises" might be unleashed. Even if California is able to find ways to juggle debt load and convince creditors to accept IOU's while the budget impasse drags on, such stop-gap actions may place its already shaky credit rating at risk of being slashed further towards junk status. The state, legally unable to declare bankruptcy, must find some solution to its budget dilemma or it will become the first state to default since the Great Depression.