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Raters, markets like reforms, but…

Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013

* From Fitch Ratings

Fitch views the passage of pension reform legislation in Illinois yesterday as a positive indication of the state’s willingness to take action on this complicated issue after many failed attempts. Fitch has stated that pension reform that enhances the funding levels of the pension systems and controls the growing impact of pension payments on the budget is necessary to stabilize the credit, and will analyze the reform to determine the extent to which it does so. Supporters have stated that the reforms will save $160 billion over the next 30 years; however, the actual impact of the reform will not be entirely known until an actuarial study has been completed. Further, legal protection of pension benefits is particularly strong in Illinois and Fitch believes legal challenge to the reform is likely.

Fitch’s rating on Illinois, at ‘A-’, with a Negative Rating Outlook, is the lowest for a U.S. state. This reflects a record of the state’s unwillingness to address its numerous fiscal challenges, including but not limited to the large and growing unfunded pension liability. In addition to action on pensions, maintenance of the rating will require timely action on a more permanent budget solution to the structural mismatch between spending and revenues in advance of the expiration of temporary tax increases. Temporary increases in both the personal and corporate income taxes that have been supporting the budget since 2011 are scheduled to begin to phase out in fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1. [Emphasis added.]

* Crain’s talked to Moody’s

For Moody’s, breaking the gridlock over pension reform was almost as important as the agreement itself — but any decisions on the state’s credit rating won’t be made until analysts review the actuarial data underlying savings claims.

“Interestingly, the legislature’s action does appear to end a long period of political paralysis,” said Ted Hampton, a vice president and senior Illinois analyst for the Wall Street credit rating agency. “We’ve lowered the rating repeatedly because of the legislature’s failure to deal with this problem. The legislature has taken some action to alter that history of being unable to reach any agreement. I think that’s significant.”

“Based on what we’ve heard, these reforms do appear substantial,” he added, if the actuarial analysis backs them up. “The other big asterisk is that we have to see how this reform package fares in the courts.”

* And

Municipal bonds from Illinois rallied to a one-month high after lawmakers broke through decades of political gridlock to pass a measure addressing the nation’s worst-funded state pension system.

About $4.4 million of taxable Illinois general-obligation bonds maturing in March 2016 traded today at an average yield of 1.8 percent, the lowest since Nov. 8, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Yields move inversely to prices. The volume that changed hands was the highest since July.

The “good” news, as far was Wall St. goes, is that the General Assembly was finally able to come to a bipartisan agreement.

The bad news is the aggressive push-back against this agreement between Democrats and Republicans from GOP Sen. Mark Kirk, Bruce Rauner, the richest man in Illinois Ken Griffin as well as tea partier types like Sen. Jim Oberweis’ US Senate primary opponent will make it difficult to forge more such agreements on other issues down the road.

* What the Rauner/Illinois Policy Institute/Etc. cabal wants is for the Republicans to withdraw from negotiations and make the Democrats take all the hard votes by themselves. Dan Proft sent this out Monday

According to [the Republican legislative leaders’] conduct, being the wheelman for Chicago Democrats’ latest heist of Illinois taxpayers (and public sector pensioneers) is morally superior and politically preferable to not participating in the crime. […]

Sen. Radogno appeared on the WLS radio show I co-host in Chicago this morning defending her support for the Madigan pension deformation legislation wherein she said, “I didn’t come (to Springfield) to play partisan games.”

Clearly. And that post-partisan patter is precisely why Republicans are in the super-minority.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - MrJM - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:15 pm:

    post-partisan patter is precisely why Republicans are in the super-minority.

    As my coach used to say, “Never let a loser tell you ‘how to win’.”

    – MrJM

  2. - where's the credibility? - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:16 pm:

    I think Dan Proft should stick to his twitter trolling as @superabe2014.

  3. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:33 pm:

    “Wheelman” and “heist” were probably common terms in conversation among the good-government types that Proft worked for in Cicero.

    Given his past electoral success, you have to admire the self-confidence he has in his political strategy.

    How does this work, though:

    –According to [the Republican legislative leaders’] conduct, being the wheelman for Chicago Democrats’ latest heist of Illinois taxpayers (and public sector pensioneers)–

    So both taxpayers and pensioneers got clipped (also a Cicero word)? That would require some explanation.

    But it’s heartwarming to hear in recent days the grave concern for pensioneers expressed by Rauner, Kass and Proft.

  4. - Ray del Camino - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:38 pm:

    Republicans are in the super-minority and on the endangered species list because of frothing-at-the-mouth bomb-throwers like Proft, not because of practical legislators like Radogno and Durkin. Homey has it backwards.

  5. - tominchicago - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:38 pm:

    The saddest part of Proft’s piece is that it is a feeble attempt to sound like John Kass. Who in their right mind would want to sound like John Kass?

  6. - Hit or Miss - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:50 pm:

    Fitch’s rating on Illinois is at ‘A-’ with a Negative Rating Outlook. The big if in my mind is what will happen if 1) the actuarial study of the bill is not as positive as the numbers from the bills backers indicate and/or 2) the legal challenges, which will come, to the bill succeed in whole or in part? If either or both of these things happen, how much lower will the bond rating for Illinois go and at what financial cost to taxpayers and who, if anyone, will loose politically?

  7. - Mmmmmmm - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    Proft and his cabal: not even loveable losers..hence in Jan 2015 we will have Speaker MJM President JC, and PQ on the 2nd floor..

  8. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:00 pm:

    What? Fitch wants an actuarial study, and Moody says the pension reform “appears” to be substantial. Do the rating agencies suspect that the exhaustive and objective numbers run by our leaders may be fishy? Do they suspect that pension reform was driven by politics instead of sound fiscal policy? Do they sniff the political imperative of gaining and retaining power at play here? And although the state judiciary was spared from pension reform (as well as the state legislature), do they suspect that our elected state jurists would still vote their self interest and upend reforms that sooner or later will reach their pensions?

  9. - anonymouse - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:17 pm:

    “. Further, legal protection of pension benefits is particularly strong in Illinois and Fitch believes legal challenge to the reform is likely.”

    Fitch is so….cutting edge!

  10. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    The only thing that will move the rating numbers up is more and permanent revenue.

  11. - Rod - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:23 pm:

    There are going to be lots of problems with the actual savings from the plan as laid out in the Conference Committee Report. The first hint of that came with the TRS analysis that Rich posted a link to on November 30th. If one looks at the estimate TRS gave in relation to the decrease in State funding to TRS over the period of time 2014-2045 it comes to $104.14 billion that is called the 32 year total in the TRS analysis.

    If these savings were equally divided over that 32 year period the savings for the 3 year period of 2014-2016 would in theory be $10.05 billion, but according to the TRS analysis the savings for that three year period of time will be only $1.32 billion. So we can effectively see right there the huge back loading nature of the plan coming out of the Committee Report. To the credit of Republicans they were the only members of the Assembly willing to publicly discuss the back loading of savings, in fact at one point Rep Zalewski speaking for the Democrats totally denied that would be the case on WTTW Chicago Tonight.

    Fitch is quite correct in wanting to see the actuarial analysis before up grading the rating for Illinois.

  12. - Son of SuperAbe2014 - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:26 pm:

    To credibility: My trolling is far more urbane than Cicero Dan’s nonsense. In addition, anyone who takes advice from Danny boy is in serious need of therapy.

  13. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:27 pm:

    For those who care about what the rating agencies say, I hope you caught the Fitch reference to the income tax increase.

    Let it expire, and the rating will get whacked.

    These guys are always moving the goal posts. If you’ll recall, the state got whacked multiple times after it raised the income tax and cut spending — both demands of the rating agencies.

    They didn’t care about taxes and spending in the Blago era. They just wanted the state to issue more debt so they could get paid for ratings.

    Their miraculous conversion and zealotry in recent years is directly related to the Justice Department civil and criminal probes into those funky AAA subprime MBS. Now they’re choirboys.

  14. - facts are stubborn things - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:27 pm:

    @- RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    =The only thing that will move the rating numbers up is more and permanent revenue.=

    Totaly agree. The reall issue with pensions is they should be seen withing the larger picture of a budget problem and not standing alone. The real issue is revenue that keeps up with costs and that also captures growth in the economy. The key driver is as you stated the income tax.

  15. - 4 percent - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:28 pm:

    And that post-partisan patter is precisely why Republicans are in the super-minority.

    And that’s why DAN PROFT is on a radio show and authoring hit pieces rather that serving as an elected official. He LOST because his views (not to mention dubious associations) were rejected by the Illinois GOP.

    Enjoy the peanut gallery, Dan.

  16. - facts are stubborn things - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:31 pm:

    The following shows the huge impact that the COLA changes have on pensions that are above the base line formula of years times $1,000/$800. OK, so picture your favorite teacher, ready to retire after 30 years of service. Her initial pension starts out at $67,000. Right now, after 20 years of retirement, that would grow to more than $120,000. But under the new system, it would only reach $91,000. That’s a cumulative difference of more than $280,000. This is from theCenter for Tax and Budget Accountability. Now that is diminshment!

  17. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 1:52 pm:

    Is anyone at all working on a backup plan in the event this is ruled unconstitutional a few months or years from now?

    We would likely have to make up the difference in payments + interest covering the amount of any “diminished benefits” not paid during the trial.

    Or are we going to run around like chickens with our heads cut off, desperately looking for funding and pretending like no one in the GA could have ever seen an “unconstitutional” verdict coming?

    It seems like the responsible thing to do on the part of those who drafted this bill. This would likely be no more than a few hundred million owed which accumulates over a matter of months or one to two years during litigation.

    That’s not a big deal if you prepare for the possibility in advance, but could pose a large problem if we must suddenly “find” the money from education, health care or other services in the middle of a fiscal year.

    And no, “keep the tax increase” isn’t a panacea for everything. It is especially not good enough in this case. That’s an unreliable, multi-billion dollar sledgehammer requiring months of negotiations that have not earnestly begun yet.

    If we can find revenue for a new $30 billion capital bill, we can find revenue to cover a $100 - $200 million rainy day fund for making any back payments in the event this is found unconstitutional.

  18. - Tony - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 2:15 pm:

    As a Dem, I’m thrilled to see Proft, Kass, Rauner, and other Illinois Republicans are doubling down on a strategy that has nationally cost them five U.S. senate seats and the presidency during the past two years.

  19. - Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    Formerly Known As

    You have not been paying attention! Get out your calendar and consider the timing of this Thanksgiving Turkey. First of all the leadership in the GA all know that this bill is a blatant diminishment and most of it smells like Sunday leftovers on Saturday. Much of it will be thrown out. After the primaries and just in time for the income tax expiration! Those nasty justices! Sorry, the courts are forcing us to make the increase permanent or better yet hike it even more! Of course the general election figures into this along with the primaries…….check the calendar! RNUG has it all laid out and after watching Illinois politics since the late sixties I agree with him. Political kabuki theatre in Illinois at its best. Enjoy!

  20. - Linus - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    Old & In The Way — The need for the temporary income-tax hike to be made permanent goes way, way beyond the scope of this pension-fix situation. Consider the math involved: Tax-increase expiration by FY2016 will result in the loss of about $5 billion in state revenues. That’s almost five times the amount of “savings” represented in yesterday’s pension bill. The idea of slashing a further $4 billion worth of state priorities (schools, public safety, transportation, public health programs, you name it) is nauseating.

  21. - tominchicago - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:14 pm:

    Formerly Known As… the Supreme Court will find the bill constitutional. The 3 Cook County members are in the bag and Madigan spent a lot of money on Justice Kilbride’s election a couple of years ago. Plus, can you see Bob Thomas agreeing with the SEIU?

  22. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:17 pm:

    Old and in the Way

    RNUG has indeed nailed this to a “T” over the past few weeks, hasn’t he? And a decent chance exists that this is little more than “kabuki theater” ultimately designed to support keeping the tax increase.

    For that to work, successful tax increase negotiations and the verdict would have to come down in near-perfect timing with one another, like dominos.

    The judicial process, however, does not always adhere to the schedules and timetables litigants would like it to. One holdout legislator, one dogged plaintiff, one trial attorney falling ill or a particularly inquisitive judge throws off even the best planned timing.

    And while this is Illinois, where anything is possible, I refuse to accept the idea of such close coordination between a small number of powerful Democratic legislators and the independent Supreme Court. A man or group of men successfully lining such complex things up so perfectly within the legislative and judicial systems defies logic and likelihood. Doing so would almost surely require crossing the line from “influence” over the legislature and judiciary to “control” of both.

    Michael Madigan can pull a lot of strings, but it seems a bit much for even him to orchestrate flawlessly.

    I still believe in the independence and honesty of our legislative and judicial systems. If those things are still true, then the plan to use this as leverage for the tax increase is unlikely to follow a rigid and convenient schedule.

    Thus, it makes sense to prepare rather than rely on “In Madigan We Trust”. It’s also a no-lose situation. People are protected if we suddenly need that money, or legislators have a piggy bank to spend if we don’t need that money.

    Then again, who knows? Madigan, Durkin, Cullerton, Radogno and the conference committee don’t seem worried about the possibility things won’t go according to plan, so I guess it’s not much of a concern.

  23. - reformer - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:23 pm:

    So Fitch is also concerned about the expiration of the temporary tax hike. I bet all those Republicans who explicitly invoked the bond houses to justify their vote for the pension bill won’t give a rip about what Fitch thinks about letting the tax hike expire.

  24. - Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:31 pm:

    If this was just an Illinois matter then maybe they would fall in line. What you forget is that contract law is in the US Constitution and states are expressly forbidden from impairing contracts and contract law. No there is a bigger audience and issue here. Can you imagine what would happen if Illinois got away with this? Every state would suddenly have a compelling reason and contracts wouldn’t be worth the paper they were written on. Even corporate America would resist that outcome.

    Besides I know most of the justices on the ISC and I can assure you that they are above the petty politics you attribute to them. In the end we will have to wait and see. Until then the Speaker and the GA have all angles covered no matter how the court rules.

    For what it’s worth they will find some of the bill constitutional.

  25. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:35 pm:

    @TominChicago and @Old and in the Way - There is truth and good reason to believe both of your points. I just hate what it would bode for this state.

    If these reductions to pensions are safe, then it seems nothing is sacred and Pandora’s Box is wide open.

  26. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:48 pm:

    Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    I started watching IL politics in the early to mid-60’s at a quite young age. Learned a lot about both “the Chicago way” and statewide from reading Royko every day. Also paid a lot of attention to the 1970 Con-Con because that was one of the first elections I could vote in. Then I went to work for the State and got a graduate course equivalent from day to day experience.

    I can’t claim to know the current crop of ISC justices but do know one of the retired ones from long before he reached that level. If they are any example of the people who reach that level, then we retirees should be in good hands.

  27. - Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    The blatant cuts or diminishment are not likely to stand. It’s just not warranted and in fact flies in the face of long standing precedents within the state. However, the GA had to give it a try, that’s politics no matter what state you reside in!

  28. - Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 3:58 pm:

    Someone in this thread mentioned that the need to extend the income tax increase transcends the “pension crisis” and it is in fact undeniable. The strategy was to use the largely manufactured crisis to get at the structural deficit. What I worry about is that the true solution is more comprehensive that just increasing a flat income tax. We need to rethink our tax structure in Illinois, it no longer reflects our current economic model. I can dream can’t i? Until then I’m just old and in the way……

  29. - tominchicago - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 4:47 pm:

    Old and in the Way While pensions do involve contract law, the only matter at issue here will be the IL SCT’s interpretation of the pension clause in the ILL Const. If the court says that the pension reform doesn’t violate that provision, then that will be the end of the issue. As for your respect for IL S.Ct Justices’ integtity, let’s just say that I’ll remain a skeptic.

  30. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 4:52 pm:

    “structural mismatch between spending and revenues”

    This is what some of us have been writing about. For now, it think it’s imperative to keep the income tax increase in place, absent any other equivalent revenue. It’s still not as high as our neighboring states’ highest rates.

  31. - Old and in the Way - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 5:01 pm:

    Read the Illinois Constitution! It specifically says that membership in an Illinois pension IS a contractual relationship. Contractual relationships and contract law are in turn defined by the US Constitution. If the ISC rules this constitutional it WILL end up in the US Supreme Court. It has to…….they would in effect be redefining contract law! This is fundamental. It’s contract law 101……I suspect you missed that class as well as the Federal Supremacy Clause……..

  32. - ejhickey - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 7:24 pm:

    i wonder if the Tea Party in illinois will be giving honorary memberships to Madigan, Cullerton and Quinn for doing what they never could have hoped to accomplish: reduce existing pensions in spite of the constitution?

  33. - DuPage Dave - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 8:10 pm:

    Let me join the crowd in thanking RNUG for his apt comments this last week. Well thought out and very well written.

    Also as a soon to be retired state worker, thanks for the optimism on the state supreme court likely outcome. I needed some of that.

    I guess I’m a tad younger than RNUG. The Con-Con took place when I was in high school and our civics teacher had us really dig in to the issues. It was certainly more “relevant” (a big word in the 60’s) than the powdered wig federal constitution. I had no idea how closely I would end up paying attention to some of that language all these years later.

  34. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 10:23 pm:

    DuPage Dave - Wednesday, Dec 4, 13 @ 8:10 pm:

    We’re probably in the same ball park, might even have been in high school at the same time.

  35. - Juvenal - Thursday, Dec 5, 13 @ 6:41 am:

    Someone please tell me the last time Illinois missed a bond payment.

    If the bond raters want to direct public policy with “objective” analysis, they really ought to get off the fence and speak without hesitation:

    “a more permanent budget solution to the structural mismatch between spending and revenues in advance of the expiration of temporary tax increases, which cannot be achieved through spending cuts alone without catastrophically undermining state support for education, health care, public safety, and basic services for children, the elderly and people with disabilities.”

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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        * Dillard Odd Man Out on Pension Deal Reaction...
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        * Oberweis still not a backer of needed reform of our nation’s immigration laws
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        * Former Stroger Aide Sentenced To 6.5 Years
        * Report: Five CPS High Schools Among Top Ten In Illinois
        * U.S. Sen. Rand Paul At Education Reform Discussion In Chicago
        * WIC Marks 40 Years Of Helping Illinois' Most Vulnerable
        * Chicago Environmentalists Take Fight To Doorstep Of 'Worst Corporate Polluters'
        * GOP Campaign Committee Has $31M To Hold House
        * Chicago Board Of Education Votes To Turnaround Three CPS Schools

        * Governor Quinn Proclaims “Wrigley Field Day” - Home of the Chicago Cubs Turns 100 Years Old Today
        * Governor Quinn Promotes Welcome Home Illinois Program at Annual Affordable Housing Conference - Addresses Industry Leaders on State’s Improving Housing Market and New Program for First-Time Homebuyers
        * IEMA Encourages Participation in ‘America’s PrepareAthon!’ on April 30 - First National Day of Action Expected to Draw Millions of Participants
        * Redeploy Illinois Program Diverts Thousands of Youth From Prison System, Saves State $60 Million - New analysis of prison diversion initiative shows 54 percent reduction in juvenile incarceration
        * Illinois EPA Recognized for 40 Year of Graduate Public Service Internship Partnership with University of Illinois at Springfield - Agency Internship Programs Help Students Gain Real-World Knowledge of Environmental Protection and Regulations

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