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Turning a corner?

Friday, Apr 11, 2014

* We still have a long way to go, and if the pension reform law is struck down all heck is gonna break loose. But good news shouldn’t be ignored. Paul Merrion at Crain’s

On its latest sale of $250 million in long-term debt, the state got much better interest rates than just a few months ago on a similar package sized at $1 billion.

Bank of America/Merrill Lynch had the winning bid [yesterday] with an overall interest rate of 4.08 percent on the general obligation bonds, compared with 4.46 percent interest a small group of investment firms agreed to pay on a $1 billion bond deal in February.

Since then, the state’s worst-in-the nation credit rating hasn’t changed, but Gov. Pat Quinn issued a five-year budget plan and called for a continuation of temporary income tax hikes that were supposed to start phasing out next year, which the credit rating agencies embraced. […]

The difference between the current rate for AAA-rated borrowers and the state’s interest rate this week was about one quarter of a percentage point less than it was in February for bonds maturing in 2029. That works out to an 18 percent reduction in the yield penalty to Illinois.

* Meanwhile, Standard & Poor’s took a look at both the governor’s “recommended” budget and his “not-recommended” budget. The ratings agency obviously doesn’t care for the not-recommended budget, which doesn’t include a full year’s worth of revenue from the tax hike

The state achieves budget balance in the not-recommended budget with $2 billion of proposed spending reductions. Total expenditures under that scenario are $29.4 billion, or 6.5% below fiscal 2014 spending levels; total and expenditures and transfers would be $34.6 billion, or 5.6% below 2014 levels. Spending reductions would be across the board in broad program areas excluding debt service, pensions, and most of the Medicaid program. Pension costs in the budget do not include the impact of recently enacted pension reform; the costs are budgeted at $6.2 billion, or 4.3% above fiscal 2014. Education funding under this scenario would decline about $1 billion and other general program areas also decline significantly.

We believe that the not-recommended budget could weaken structural alignment for Illinois.

That last line could be bigtime political ammo for Gov. Pat Quinn against those, like Bruce Rauner, who want to allow the tax hike to expire.

* S&P isn’t overly thrilled with the recommended budget, but they do appear to prefer it

The recommended budget could contribute to enhanced structural alignment due to less severe spending reductions needed to achieve balance, but it still relies on nonrecurring resources, such as the interfund loan, as well as continued progress on Medicaid reform and other cost containment measures.

* And while expressing some constitutional and other reservations about the recent pension reform law, S&P wrote “we believe it would provide significant budget relief and substantially improve funded ratios over time.”

* There was also this historical perspective

On many levels, Illinois’ credit quality is a study in contrasts. In our opinion, despite a long history of structural budget imbalance and weak pension funding levels, the protections for general obligation (GO) bonds are strong. Even during the Great Recession’s depths, when liquidity was extremely strained, the state’s commitment to bondholders was steadfast, in our view, and remained a policy focus. The recent pension reform further highlights this, with specific statutory provisions that subordinate pension payments to debt service. We believe the provisions relating to GO debt are longstanding and strong in supporting the priority of payment for debt service.

Illinois does not have to deal with constitutional or statutory revenue limitations, has what we consider to be a broad and diverse economy with above-average wealth levels, and has flexibility to adjust spending levels. However, despite these strengths, structural imbalance has been a regular feature of its budget position for many years.

* But

Although the state has implemented improvements in budget and financial management practices, they have not been robust enough to offset the sluggish economy and the accumulated structural budget deficit. Illinois’ budgetary performance, rising unfunded pension liability, and legislative inaction on many fronts contributed to a pattern of credit deterioration since 2008; as a result, we have lowered our rating four times. This is at odds with the state sector’s credit performance as a whole. Only time will tell which path credit quality moves. As such, our developing outlook best reflects the state of Illinois’ credit quality, in that it might improve — or get worse — in the next two years.

* Related…

* Cullerton: ‘I confess: I like Illinois’

- Posted by Rich Miller        


25 Comments
  1. - Cassandra - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    Rauner needs to get going on his budget/financial recommendations or Quinn is going to take the issue away. That means he has to be somewhat more specific, always risky, but right now what this ordinary voter is hearing is don’t make the increase permanent, move to defined contribution pensions, improve the economy (how?), and throw the bums out. The latter is appealing and I’m always in favor of reducing my awful tax burden, but I need more info here before I decide whether to vote for Rauner or Green/Libertarian. Never Quinn.


  2. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    === 18 percent reduction in the yield penalty to Illinois ===

    How does our yield penalty now stand in comparison to other states?


  3. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    “if the pension reform law is struck down all heck is gonna break loose.”

    If the law is struck down, and politicians try to go for union members’ throats for something harsher, there would be real problems and unrest.

    If the law is struck down, it might be time to consider some policies that unions endorse or would find favorable, such as financial transaction taxes, debt reamortization, progressive income taxation, etc.

    “structural imbalance has been a regular feature of its budget position for many years”

    This is why some of us have been arguing for more tax revenue.

    “above-average wealth levels”

    This is why it makes sense to have more tax revenue. We are among the higher income states, yet we are among the lower income tax states. We can balance this out a bit by either keeping the income tax at 5% or doing the progressive tax.

    Also, weakening unions will lower our income and make us look more like the many other states who have done so and have lower per capita incomes than we do.


  4. - Been There - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:17 am:

    ===against those, like Bruce Rauner, who want to allow the tax hike to expire.====
    The one thing I find ironic about many of those who are against keeping the tax increase permanent, especially those in the GOP, is that the tax sticks it to everyone pretty much across the board. Getting rid of it gives the graduated tax push or the millionaire tax a better chance of passing, at least some day in the future. And the millionaires and many of those in the wealthy GOP districts will be shouldering a bigger increase. While those in the poor neighborhoods, that tend to be Dem districts, go back to the lower rates.


  5. - cicero - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    == * S&P isn’t overly thrilled with the recommended budget, but they do appear to prefer it…==

    Republican leaders loved to quote the bond houses when it came to pensions and to insist we follow their prescriptions to avoid more credit downgrades. Now that it comes to taxing and spending, I predict our friends on the right will be much less concerned about pleasing the bond houses. Go figure.


  6. - PublicServant - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    ===Illinois…has what we consider to be a broad and diverse economy with above-average wealth levels, and has flexibility to adjust spending levels. However, despite these strengths, structural imbalance has been a regular feature of its budget position for many years.===

    Read that as “Illinois has wealth and a diverse economy that Indiana and Wisconsin could only dream of, but as a result of a crop of politicians who won’t do the heavy lifting, and are always looking for the easy way out, a structural imbalance has been a regular feature of its budget position for many years, decades even.


  7. - RNUG - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    “if the pension reform law is struck down all heck is gonna break loose.”

    That line should probably read “WHEN the pension reform law is struck down all heck is gonna break loose.”


  8. - PublicServant - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:35 am:

    RNUG, I agree, but the issue becomes, what will they do then? I’ll hold my nose and vote Quinn, because he’s at least been making the payments, and now that the bond houses are on to the pension golden goose, they’ll be hard-pressed not to fund it going forward.


  9. - Mason born - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    “As such, our developing outlook best reflects the state of Illinois’ credit quality, in that it might improve — or get worse — in the next two years.”

    Gotta love that line. In other words “Who the Bleep knows.”


  10. - Walker - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:49 am:

    Both ratings houses prefer maintaining the current tax rates, though one acknowledges that even that won’t produce enough on a long term basis, without other changes.

    At least they take a long term view, and they use actual arithmetic in their analysis.


  11. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 10:52 am:

    @Grandson
    =We are among the higher income states, yet we are among the lower income tax states. We can balance this out a bit by either keeping the income tax at 5% or doing the progressive tax.=

    It’s already been “balanced out” by property, sales and other taxes, grandson. According to the Tax Foundation, the total tax burden on Illinoisans was the 13th highest in the nation for the last reporting year (2011) at 10.2% of income.

    Please note that that was BEFORE the 67% income tax increase that the Dems passed in the dead of night in a lame duck session.

    If we add the 2% of income tax increase to the 10.2%, for a total of 12.2% of income, and I know that’s not exactly equivalent, we would have ranked 3rd in the worst tax burden sweepstakes, just behind NY (12.6%) and NJ (12.3%).

    Anyway you choose to slice it, ranking somewhere between the 13th and 3rd worst tax burden environment, the people don’t deserve an extension of this tax for bad, corrupt decisions made by our GA and govs so they can keep trying to sustain an unsustainable system a little longer. The “Illinois is a low tax state” argument is a false one, and needs to be disputed as one of those “big lies” that the money grubbing pols and public trough parasites keep perpetrating to stay in power.

    They need REAL spending and policy reform in Springfield, and extending the tax increase will just enable them to avoid it for while longer.


  12. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    Cullerton’s piece in the Sun-Times is a good review. It’s not all gloom-and-doom, everywhere.

    What’s stung is actually trying to address problems in the aftermath of a recession.


  13. - Demoralized - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    @Arizona Bob:

    What would you suggest be done if the tax increase is not made permanent? I’ve found that cheerleaders of letting it expire, such as yourself, generally have little to offer in terms of real solutions to the budget mess that will be left in it’s wake. What specific “reforms” would you make? What cuts would you make? We’re talking billions of dollars here.

    And just because you say the low tax argument is a “false one” doesn’t make you right. I can provide stats that would say different. You can manipulate data in any way you want so that it supports your opinion. Who’s right? It depends on your perspective.


  14. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    –Rauner needs to get going on his budget/financial recommendations or Quinn is going to take the issue away.–

    I’m sure Quinn would rather the issue just “went away,” lol.

    Rauner doesn’t have to do anything except say “cut waste, end corruption, run it like a business.”

    That’s the great advantage of campaigning while you don’t have to govern. Always has been.


  15. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:40 am:

    =What’s stung is actually trying to address problems in the aftermath of a recession.=

    Especially when recovery from that recession was among the weakest in the nation due to the poor spending and tax policy decisions of Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton!


  16. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    AB, you’re such a victim.

    Cutting spending, raising revenues and paying the full pension boat stung. Inevitable after decades of kicking the can down the road.


  17. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    “public trough parasites”

    This is why you get flak from public workers who put in decades of honest work and get more or less reasonable salaries and pensions. This is hatespeak, and if you have unrest, you deserve it.

    Plus, let us look at some other “public trough parasites,” since you want to go down that path.

    Rauner says special interests like union leaders and their workers’ pensions did major fiscal damage. Now he’s trying to spin his way out of it by not directly attacking union leaders and unions. Who managed those funds? GTCR, Rauner’s company. He is complicit in that, if he argues it.

    Though he is not running GTCR, I read that the company manages almost $5 billion in public pension funds.

    THI, Rauner’s nursing home company that is trying to go through bankruptcy: How much public money was wasted and misspent by so few people in that failed enterprise? Medicare and Medicaid in the millions. Why are you not calling THI a parasite?

    Billions of public dollars are unaccounted for in military spending, in auditing errors and incomplete projects, among other things. Military spending is supported by conservatives. That’s billions of dollars that are missing and misspent.

    The Iraq War is estimated to cost $800 billion, not counting the long-term costs of the war, which could go into the trillions. Conservatives supported the war and pushed for it.

    Public parasites, indeed. Take the plank out of your own eye before you try to demean others.


  18. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:52 am:

    == This is why it makes sense to have more tax revenue. ==

    The U.S. Census Bureau released their 2013 State Tax Collection data this week. It shows that Illinois collected $38,715,320,000 in taxes last year. That consists of property taxes, sales and gross receipts taxes, license taxes, income taxes and other taxes.

    That is $4 billion more than Florida, which is more populous than us, and $5 billion more than Pennsylvania, which holds almost exactly the same population. That also does not take into account federal funding and additional revenues.

    According to COGFA, our final 2013 General Funds budget was $30,241,000,000.

    On the surface, everything looks good. In reality, we may need to begin examining our budgeting and accounting process, as NPR suggested earlier this week. At the very least, we should take a look at the way we categorize mandatory spending requirements and certain expenses in our accounting.


  19. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 11:59 am:

    @wordslinger
    =That’s the great advantage of campaigning while you don’t have to govern. Always has been.=

    Absolutely right, word. It’s bad campaign strategy to get too detailed in programs as a challenger. You keep principles and plans general to create a “feeling” amongst voters.

    If a challenger comes up with a detailed, specific program to deal with the state or local issues, the conversation changes from the incumbent’s inability to deal with the problems to potential flaws in the challenger’s plans.

    When I ran for a schoolboard some time ago, I came up with a very specific plan to reduce wasteful non-instructional spending, improve curricullum development and reduce patronage non-instructional staff expense, as well as improving instructional quality.

    I showed how other districts had accomplished these goals, and how we could also do this to benefit our kids.

    I also showed how we could eliminate charging families student fees and how we could stop raising taxes above tax cap limits by selling working cash bonds.

    Once I made this plan and had it published in the local papers, the conversation changed from why the board raised a principle’s salary from $104K to $180K just to fatten his pension, and why we were underperforming our peer districts from ineffective educational quality improvement by our highly priced curriculum director. the conversation became about “he wants to fire your favorite teacher” and “he doesn’t care about the children” and “he doesn’t want safe schools” in the yenta network that win school bard elections.

    Their general branding resonated a heck of a lot better with voters than my specific plans to improve the quality of education and reduce the fee and tax burdens on families.

    Rauner’s smart to keep his plans general and non-specific. He won’t lose many votes for those seriously considering voting for him that way, and he’ll frustrate the heck out of those who want the conversation to change from Quinn’s dishonesty and incompetence to ANY Rauner plan they can criticize.

    What Rauner’s doing is smart. VERY smart, and it’s a winning strategy.


  20. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    @grandson
    I never said that all public employees are “public trough parasites”, and that government contractors feeding that trough are any better.

    All the “parasites” want higher taxes on the rest of us, which is their main point of contention.

    I guess if you think that you’re part of those “parasites” and take that personally,I can only say, “if the shoe fits…”


  21. - 47th Ward - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 12:35 pm:

    Illinois: “I confess: I like Cullerton.”


  22. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 12:39 pm:

    Arizona Bob,
    You refer to people as worthless when you call them parasites. It’s a word you’ve used more than once, and it’s standard right wing propaganda to describe public employees and poor people who are helped by tax dollars. When times are tough, these are among the folks who have to bear the cuts.

    Public workers and poor people have the right and moral authority to ask wealthy people who are doing quite well to help out a little more. We’re talking about organizations and people who have to deal with society’s major problems: orphans, criminals, the severely disabled, etc.

    The other day you tried to insult a few hundred ministers who rallied for the Fair Tax when you said they swindle their parishioners. You don’t even know these people personally but you cast them all as villains. You paint with a very broad brush.


  23. - Demoralized - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    ==Especially when recovery from that recession was among the weakest in the nation due to the poor spending and tax policy decisions of Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton!==

    Yeah, it was all their fault. Never mind the problem has been around for decades and has been caused by the culmination of policies by BOTH Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately partisan hacks such as yourself cannot be honest in any of the debate about the state’s finances. It doesn’t fit your talking points.


  24. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    –In our opinion, despite a long history of structural budget imbalance and weak pension funding levels, the protections for general obligation (GO) bonds are strong. Even during the Great Recession’s depths, when liquidity was extremely strained, the state’s commitment to bondholders was steadfast, in our view, and remained a policy focus.–

    Thanks for nothing, S&P!

    You whacked our rating time and again in the aftermath of the recession, costing us real money in the market.

    Before then, when the state was shorting pensions, and increasing spending without new revenues, everything was hunky-dory.

    When we cut spending, increased revenue, paid the full freight on pensions, like you asked — we got whacked, over and over.

    That was not nice, considering you were instrumental in causing The Great Recession with your subprime mbs scam.

    After that caused a global meltdown, you got religion.

    Oh, nothing like the zealotry of the recently converted sinner….. especially when the federales are on them.


  25. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Apr 11, 14 @ 2:24 pm:

    We have a very interesting time approaching, in regards to the state income tax. Quinn and Madigan want to keep the tax at 5%. The Fair Tax made its way to the Senate floor and has a lot of sponsors in both houses. I’m hoping that the amendment will clear the Senate floor so we can have a more robust debate.

    I wonder how many legislators will be convinced to support the Fair Tax amendment as a substitute to the “permanent” 5% income tax? If the flat tax increase extension is passed, then the Fair Tax is more attractive because lots of people will get a tax break.


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