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California public finances make "notable progress," Fitch says

December 05, 2012|By Marc Lifsher
  • California's financial situation has made notable progress, Fitch Ratings says. Above, the state Capitol Building in Sacramento.
California's financial situation has made notable progress, Fitch… (David Bohrer / For The Times )

SACRAMENTO -- California has made "notable progress" in improving the state government's financial health since the recession and the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, according to Fitch Ratings.

The New York debt-rating service issued a statement Wednesday praising the state for winning approval of two tax increase initiatives last month and for making significant spending cuts over the last several years.

"The state's fiscal recovery is incomplete and challenges remain, but continued economic improvement, a demonstrated commitment to more sustainable budgetary operations and progress on reducing budgetary debt would be viewed positively by Fitch," said Doug Offerman, a senior director.

Fitch credited voters with approving Proposition 30 on Nov. 6. The measure temporarily raises the personal income tax on couples earning more than $250,000 annually for the next seven years. That will generate about $6 billion in annual revenue.

Voters also endorsed Proposition 39, which changes the way corporate income taxes are calculated on some multi-state companies and raises $500 million a year.

Those actions could help the state avoid the "volatile revenue swings and severe fiscal and cash flow crises" that have bedeviled California over the last decade, Fitch said. Those difficulties, combined with restricted voter initiatives and highly partisan politics, have kept an "A-" rating on the state's general obligation debt, which is below that of many other states.

California's economy also is showing signs of improvement: steady economic and revenue gains, 27 months of employment growth and an improving housing market, Fitch said.

The relatively upbeat analysis is "another indication that we're moving in the right direction," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance. "That said, the governor has made it very clear that we need to maintain financial discipline."


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