May 7, 2020 / 3:13 PM / in a month

California predicts $54.3 billion budget deficit due to coronavirus

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California will face a budget deficit of $54.3 billion due to a huge drop in revenue combined with increased expenses linked to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a projection released on Thursday by financial advisers to Governor Gavin Newsom.

FILE PHOTO: Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom speaks to the media after an event with Democratic congressional candidate Katie Porter, Senator Kamala Harris and comedian Chelsea Handler in Irvine, California, U.S. November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon/File Photo

The dire financial condition of the most populous U.S. state is reflected across the country, as 3.2 million Americans claimed jobless benefits for the first time last week, bringing the total to about 33.5 million since March 21.

Newsom, whose state plummeted from surplus to deficit in a matter of weeks due to shutdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, pleaded for help from the federal government in his daily coronavirus update on Thursday.

“This is bigger than all of us and we really need the federal government to do more,” Newsom said. “It’s about human beings who have great need.”

The new projections, which cover the period up to end-June 2021, come as Newsom, a Democrat, is preparing to revise his proposed budget to reflect vastly different circumstances than when it was first proposed in January and California was flush with money.

At that time, when Newsom proposed a budget that increased spending for anti-poverty efforts, education, mental health services and other programs, unemployment was at 3.9% and the state had a projected $5.6 billion surplus, with another $21 billion in reserves.

But the fiscal update prepared by Newsom’s Department of Finance and seen by Reuters said 4.2 million people had filed unemployment claims since mid-March, when businesses began closing down under public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

The state projects that the unemployment rate in 2020 will hit 18%, more than during the worst of the Great Recession, when it peaked at about 12.3% in 2010.

As a result of large job losses, overall personal income for Californians is expected to drop by 9% in 2020, leading to a fall in revenue from state income taxes, the report said. New housing construction is also expected to drop, with a projected 21% reduction in new building permits.

The finance department projects a 25.5% decline in personal income taxes collected by the state, and a 27% decline in sales taxes and a 23% drop in corporate taxes.

In addition, the state expects to spend more than projected in 2020 because of about $13 billion in expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Editing by Timothy Heritage, Bill Tarrant and Dan Grebler

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