With Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" scandal grabbing California's, and the country's, attention, the bigger news for the state of the former governor, which got somewhat trampled, was it's brightened budget picture.
Tax collections in California and across many of America’s beleaguered states have surged this season, raising hopes of economic recovery and easing worries in some quarters about a feared muni bond crisis. But some view the recent optimism as a denial of reality.
A spate of recent announcements from state fiscal authorities has indeed been encouraging. California is bringing in an estimated $6.6 billion more than anticipated through the middle of next year, moving a good pace toward closing the Golden State’s $15 billion budget deficit. Illinois raised an additional $1.6 billion in tax dollars over the last four months, and estimates show it will bring in as much as $7 billion more in the coming fiscal year.
New Jersey forecasts an extra $914 million in revenue, which will help close a $4 billion budget gap. Michigan forecasts up to $690 million more in revenue than had been estimated in January. Tax receipts in Massachusetts surged 43% in April, hauling in an unanticipated $580 million in increased revenue.
Speaking to financial advisors at IMCA’s annual conference in Las Vegas this week, David Kelly (left), J.P. Morgan Funds chief market strategist, said: “I’d much rather lend to state and municipal governments than the federal government now.” He minimized concerns about the safety of municipal bonds, calling the risk of default “miniscule, historically.”
While Kelly favors equities over fixed-income now, he had positive things to say about munis, which recently have reached new highs for the year. Looking at the spreads between munis and Treasuries on an after-tax basis, Kelly said munis are a better deal. The J.P. Morgan strategist earlier in his career worked for the state of Michigan, and learned then the fact that “state economies are really very cyclical.” States don’t have all they need “to hang themselves” as does the U.S., E.U. and Japan, he added.