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Facebook, California's Number-One Frenemy

Initial stock sale offers both reward and risk for state's troubled treasury

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Opinion: Facebook, CA's Top Frenemy

Facebook made a $550 million deal to buy 650 former AOL patents from Microsoft.

Facebook's 27-year-old founder, Mark Zuckerberg, launched his road show this week, signaling the start of Facebook frenzy on Wall Street.

Would-be investors crowded a Manhattan hotel room to ask questions about what would be a record event: the expected stock sale later this month that could raise more than $11 billion.

That brings us to California, which wants to "friend" Facebook in a big way...financially-speaking.

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to outline another bad news budget plan next week, the prospect of a Facebook revenue windfall glitters on the horizon.

As the state Legislative Analyst's office put it recently, in a nice bit of understatement, Facebook going public "would help state revenues."

How much remains a moving target. Its experts' best guess is that the sale represents a windfall to the state of up to $2 billion, and perhaps more, over the next 14 months. It could be more.

"If the IPO (Initial Public Offering) results in a market capitalization of well over $100 billion and/or Facebook's stock price climbs significantly above its IPO level, the state revenue benefit could be $1 billion or more over the level we assume, spread across a few fiscal years," said the LAO's latest review.

That kind of revenue is a temptation for lawmakers, who may want to use those projected dollars as a lifeline to offset spending cuts. And that's where that glittering image may turn out to be a mirage.

"It'll clearly be a benefit to the state's bottom line," State Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer tells Prop Zero. "But it shouldn't be viewed as some type of get-out-of-tough-decisions card....it is not an ongoing revenue source."

As Palmer notes, we've seen this movie before.

The dot-com boom of a dozen years ago went spectacularly bust, but California had increased its spending, leading to an enormous budget gap.

Echoes of that exist today, despite the slashing of billions in spending in recent years.

Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang issued yet another warning, noting that April tax revenues fell $2.4 billion short of the governor's January projections.

That increases the danger, Chiang said, that "the state will be unable to access the working capital needed to pay its bills later this year."

That sets the stage for Gov. Brown to issue his revised budget plan next Monday, which will show a shortfall somewhere greater than $9 billion.

Sources indicate the governor's budget-writers are working to determine the so-called Facebook factor--how much money the state will collect once Zuckerberg and others exercise their stock options.

But if lawmakers treat it as more than one-time money, they'll be asking themselves this question: with a friend like Facebook, who needs enemies?

Author Kevin Riggs is an Emmy-winning former TV journalist in Sacramento. He is currently Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

 

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