The question was recently asked of me, “How can we be in deficit and have cash?”

Easily. We’ll begin with a few basic definitions.

· Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – GAAP: The common set of accounting principles, standards and procedures that companies use to compile their financial statements. GAAP are a combination of authoritative standards (set by policy boards) and simply the commonly accepted ways of recording and reporting accounting information. It has been my experience that governments (all taxing entities) ignore these principles whenever they become inconvenient.
· Statement of Income & Expense, also called Statement of Profit and Loss: A report of Income/Revenue/Sales/Collections and Expenses, usually showing the bottom line as a Net Profit/Surplus or a Net Loss/Deficit. Has no meaning if it is not specific to a certain period.
· Period: The length of time for which financial results are being reported. Usually a month, a quarter, or a year.
· Fiscal Year: Twelve accounting Periods. Most individuals use a calendar year (January 1 through December 31) fiscal year. The State of Minnesota uses July 1 through June 30 The U.S. Government uses October 1 through September 30.
· Balance Sheet: A snapshot in time, usually but not necessarily at the end of a fiscal period, showing the result of financial activity on the Assets (cash, accounts receivable, production equipment, autos, trucks, desks) and Liabilities (accounts payable, outstanding loans, unpaid payroll taxes) and Net Worth (bottom line; difference between Assets and Liabilities).
· Matching Principle: This accounting principle requires companies to use the accrual basis of accounting. Simply, this means that revenue not yet collected in the period being reported is shown as a “receivable”, and expenses incurred but not yet paid are shown as “payables”. The matching principle requires that expenses be matched with revenues.

For example, sales commissions expense should be reported in the period when the sales were made (and not reported in the period when the commissions were paid). Wages to employees are reported as an expense in the week when the employees worked and not in the week when the employees are paid. If a company agrees to give its employees 1% of its 2007 revenues as a bonus on January 15, 2008, the company should report the bonus as an expense in 2007 and the amount unpaid at December 31, 2007 as a liability. (The expense is occurring as the sales are occurring.)
Now we see that you can have a lot of money in the bank but if the bills have not been paid for a long time, when the Payables are added to the expenses actually paid you can find that you are flat broke. Another way of looking at this is called the Doomsday Equation. What if, at midnight tonight, all of the Accounts Receivable are collected and all the bills are paid – will there be anything left over?

Conversely, you can have a low bank balance but if most of the bills are paid and you have a large amount of high quality collectible Accounts Receivable you can be in relatively good financial shape. This creates a situation known as insufficient working capital, and usually necessitates short-term borrowing until the Receivables are collected.

Creative Accounting, also called Budgeting.

Now we are ready to enter the world of imaginary numbers: budgeting. One can see that a forecast budget deficit – more expenses than revenue in a future period – can have nothing whatever to do with the amount of cash you have socked away in reserve. Even when the reserves are brought into consideration (Pawlenty “spending down” the reserves) not all of them are brought out into the open. In any case, it is not required or necessary to point out reserves in a budget, remembering that budgets are comprised of imaginary numbers and sometimes have little or no bearing on the actual results of transactions during the period being budgeted for.

A Minnesota twist on budgeting hocus-pocus.

An interesting sidelight to this charade in our fair state of Minnesota is this little known fact about our budget, which we call The Forecast: “The Forecast does not adjust future spending for inflation, although it does adjust future revenues based on inflation. This is due to a law passed in 2002 that prohibits including the influence of inflation on most spending in the Forecast. While it was a reasonable decision at that time to combat a state budget deficit by restraining growth in spending, that outcome should have been achieved in budget legislation, rather than by changing the state’s forecasting methods.”

This little ploy adds apples and oranges into the same accounting period, with the result usually being fruit salad.

Dan Martin