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California State and Local Liabilities Total $1.6 Trillion

California’s total state and local government debt now stands at almost $1.6 trillion, or about half the state’s GDP.

That isn’t an alarming ratio when compared to the national debt, which has now soared to 128 percent of U.S. GDP with no end in sight. But Californians carry this $1.6 trillion state and local debt ($40,000 per capita) in addition to their share of the national debt (about $90,000 per capita).

Consolidated data on state and local debt is maddeningly difficult to compile. Getting the most recent data for California’s state and local bond debt requires downloading and analyzing the publicly released annual financial reports for 58 counties, 481 cities, 1,037 school districts, and 3,400 special districts. And even if data miners were to apply sweat and algorithms to this chore, at this moment in early 2022 the complete dataset can be obtained only for the fiscal year through June 30, 2020.

Rather than engage in a from-the-ground-up exercise in data gathering, we have turned to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 “State & Local Government Finance Historical Datasets and Tables,” which is the Bureau’s most recent compilation. According to the Census Bureau, California’s total state long-term debt was $145 billion at the end of 2019, and California’s total local debt was $361 billion. This total, $506 billion, passes the sanity check when compared to the 2017 state/local debt estimate we compiled a few years ago, $482 billion. The slight upward trend comports well […] Read More