Sisney noted that California could see delays in tax filing because Congress has yet to adjust for inflation the alternative minimum tax, which is paid by an estimated 3 percent of income tax filers.
The Internal Revenue Service has warned that tens of millions of taxpayers won't be able to file until March or later if the AMT patch isn't approved. That would delay income tax collection in California.
Federal leaders wrote the fiscal cliff triggers last year as a way to force Republicans and Democrats to compromise on a better set of solutions to reduce national deficits. The deal included significant cuts to the defense industry, which has a considerable presence in the San Diego region.
An aerospace industry report by George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller found that California could lose 225,464 jobs by virtue of the defense reductions.
Not all programs would be cut. Besides Medicaid the national program called Medi-Cal in California Social Security and veterans' benefits are spared. Medicare would see a smaller 2 percent reduction in payments to providers.
Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said he believes the U.S. would experience a "mild recession" absent a fiscal cliff deal, largely because of lower consumption. He also warned that reduced profits in 2013 could mean less tax revenue than Brown expects from his voter-approved tax hike on wealthy earners.
But Nickelsburg said it is difficult to tell exactly how federal cuts would affect the economy, in part because agencies haven't entirely decided how they would cut programs or jobs.
The Congressional Budget Office last month predicted that the fiscal cliff would result in a 0.5 percent drop in gross domestic product in 2013, as well as an uptick in national unemployment.
Federal leaders remain at odds over a fiscal cliff deal, but if they send signals they will avert cuts and taxes, even weeks into the new year, the state and nation may avoid recession, Sisney suggested.
Though the fiscal cliff is described in harrowing terms and many people are advocating for softer, smarter reductions and tax hikes, Sisney said effects in the long term could nonetheless be positive.
"While all of this surely would cause damage to the economy in the short term, the federal government being of sounder fiscal condition has long-term benefits," Sisney said. "In the long term, the federal government may have more resources to put into the economy, more flexibility to lower taxes and more flexibility to invest."