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*** UPDATED x3 *** Credit rating downgraded by S&P

Friday, Jan 25, 2013

* We’re getting dangerously close to junk bond status, campers, but we’re not there yet. From a press release

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating on Illinois’ general obligation (GO) bonds to ‘A-’ from ‘A’. At the same time, Standard & Poor’s assigned its ‘A-’ rating to the state’s $500 million GO bonds of February 2013. The outlook is negative.

“The downgrade reflects what we view as the state’s weakened pension funded ratios and lack of action on reform measures intended to improve funding levels and diminish cost pressures associated with annual contributions,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Robin Prunty.

The aggregate pension funded ratios on an actuarial basis declined to 40.4% at fiscal year-end 2012, compared with 43.4% in fiscal 2011. Based on the state’s current projections, the funded ratio will decline further to 39% in fiscal 2013. The continued decline in pension funded ratios is due in part to contributions below the annual required contribution, investment returns below assumptions, and lower investment return assumptions. While legislative action on pension reform could occur during the current legislative session and various bills have been filed, we believe that legislative consensus on reform will be difficult to achieve given the poor track record in the past two years. If there is meaningful legislative action on reform, we believe that there could be implementation risk based on the potential for legal challenges, and it could be several years before reform translates into improved funded ratios and budget relief. In addition, Illinois has to manage other challenges, which include pending statutory reduction of rates on the personal and corporate income taxes beginning in fiscal 2015 and a high level of accumulated payables, combined with the more typical pressures facing the state sector in terms of a slow economic recovery, potential federal fiscal consolidation, and health care reform implementation. […]

Offsetting these generally positive credit factors are what we consider:

    · Sizable budget-based deficits for fiscal years 2009 through 2012 despite revenue-enhancement measures implemented in 2011 that we view as significant;

    · A historically large generally accepted accounting principles general fund balance deficit;

    · Large unfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) for its five pensions; and

    · A moderately high and growing debt burden due to debt issuance for current pension contributions in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, and the approved long-term capital program.

The negative outlook reflects what we view as the range of challenges Illinois faces that will require legislative consensus and action. We believe the outcome of deliberations relating to pension reform and the expiration of current personal and corporate income tax rate increases on Jan. 1, 2015, along with other normal budget pressures, could have a profound effect on the state’s budgetary performance and liquidity over the two-year outlook horizon. While it is unusual for a state rating to fall into the ‘BBB’ category, lack of action on pension reform and upcoming budget challenges could result in further credit deterioration, particularly if it translates into weaker liquidity. We could revise the outlook to stable if Illinois achieves pension reform that lowers liabilities and associated costs to the state and takes credible actions to achieve structural budget balance over the two-year outlook horizon. We believe there is limited upside potential for the rating in the next two years given the size of the accumulated deficit and the liability challenges Illinois faces but will evaluate the state’s progress in addressing key budget and pension challenges. [Emphasis added.]

*** UPDATE *** Gov. Quinn was asked about pension reform today. His response…

“The pressure is higher than ever … We’ve got to have an urgent approach,” Governor Quinn said. Referring to State Senate President John Cullerton’s Senate Bill 1, which incorporates suggestions from Democrats, Republicans and labor unions for a multi-pronged approach to tackling the pension problem, he continued: “We’ve got to all work together in a bipartisan way to get this challenge of pension reform behind us … We’ve got to put our seat-belts on here, and understand the rating agencies won’t give us better marks until the legislature passes Senate Bill 1 and gets the job done. That’s really the message the credit rating agencies are screaming at the top of their voice. I’ve heard it, and I think the members of the legislature need to hear it as well.”

*** UPDATE 2 *** President Cullerton…

“The rating agencies are confirming what we all recognize. It’s time for action on pensions. The Senate President will continue to push constitutional reforms to stabilize our pension systems and restore confidence in the state of Illinois.”

*** UPDATE 3 *** Leader Cross…

“S&P’s downgrade of our bond rating – coming on the heels of Fitch’s announcement just two weeks ago – is another indication of the gravity of Illinois’ fiscal crisis. We simply cannot afford continued downgrades at a time when we urgently need to restore stability and balance to the state’s fiscal climate. The General Assembly must act in order to avoid further damage to our credit rating by achieving consensus on meaningful pension reform that can pass the House and Senate this spring.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        


38 Comments
  1. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:16 pm:

    Illinois. #1 with a bullet.


  2. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:18 pm:

    Mighty nice of them to downgrade us just before our bond sale on Jan. 30th.

    Now we get to pay a little extra on our bonds.

    Not like we could use the money or anything.

    Thank you Illinois leadership.


  3. - Billy - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    Too bad the state does not have the political leadership, with the courage to solve our financial problems!


  4. - Nickypiii - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:22 pm:

    REVENUE>>>REVENUE>>>REVENUE!


  5. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:28 pm:

    Didn’t see that coming, lol.


  6. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:28 pm:

    Our “A-” S&P bond rating now puts us on par with Andorra, Aruba, Botswana, Malaysia and Malta.

    As an added bonus, our borrowing costs are now 3x that of California.

    Seems odd Califronia has managed to get their house in order so quickly during the past 2 years while we head in the opposite direction. Especially since we both had tax hikes.

    Something rotten in Denmark, methinks.


  7. - Frenchie Mendoza - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    Given the downgrade (which must come as no shock to anyone) — can someone explain why Quinn continue to antagonize AFSCME (and essentially all labor) in the short term when (IMHO, at least) (a) this pension battle is clearly more important in the long term and (b) any pension fix will rely on AFSCME (and other unions) helping sell the fix to its members?

    I mean, the negotiations between Quinn and AFSCME are going nowhere. The state is remarkably close to a strike. How, exactly, would a strike — even if it’s short — do *anything* to help solve or help inch toward a pension solution? And how does antagonizing labor help Quinn in the upcoming primary season — especially when (I’m guessing) the pension will remain unsolved.


  8. - Hank - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:40 pm:

    Given Quinn’s recent Madigan statement I am surprised that he didn’t add something to the effect that “two state pensions to one family is an example that urgent reform is needed”


  9. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:41 pm:

    Even though they mentioned the pending dropoff of the ‘temporary’income tax hike, the ’solutions’ seem to be all about pension reform. No mention of the possibility of new revenue or even extension of the current tax rates. Have to think this is all about the bond houses agenda to get bond payments ahead of pension fund payments, such as the proposed amendment 11 last session and the language buried in SB0001 this session.


  10. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:46 pm:

    –Have to think this is all about the bond houses agenda to get bond payments ahead of pension fund payments, such as the proposed amendment 11 last session and the language buried in SB0001 this session.–

    If I recall correctly, by law, every month, before it does anything else, the state puts aside 1/12 of principal and 1/6 of interest for its upcoming bond payments.

    Bond houses, as underwriters, don’t hold any debt anyway, unless it’s as an investment. State debt is pre-sold and oversubscribed, by a factor of four in recent sales.

    I have no doubt the same will hold true on Jan. 30.


  11. - geronimo - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:48 pm:

    We have a revenue problem, not a pension problem. Evidence supports this statement for the last, oh say, 40 years or so? If we’d had enough to fund everything needed over the decades, the pension money wouldn’t have been used. Short then, short now. We need to generate more revenue. Lots of suggestions out there that would work. Springfield has selective hearing though.


  12. - John A Logan - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:55 pm:

    Worst. State. Ever.


  13. - illinifan - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:56 pm:

    Geronimo you hit the nail on the head…the statement by S&P says go and do the pension reform but it really won’t affect our changing the rating since we know you will have legal challenges….the next sentences were key that the imminent challenge is the tax structure chaning in 2015. So Quinn and the legislators should not be thinking they have to just do the pensions and life is good…..Get it together and address the fiscal issue comprehensively since this has really created the problem


  14. - Jimbo - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:56 pm:

    John,

    Feel free to move. Maybe you can be roomies with Jimmy John.


  15. - qcexaminer - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:58 pm:

    “The pressure is higher than ever…” what Democrat will demand bigger, better and higher taxes?

    Democrats are the Party Of Tax and Spend. Come on Dems, do what you were born to do—stick it to the taxpayers!

    You know you want to, you know you do!


  16. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:59 pm:

    RNUG, word is right here. What the unions want is to get pension payments made with the same urgency as bond payments. That is an uphill climb.
    That A 11 was a drafting mess. Let me re-read SB1 before I say something wrong.


  17. - Norseman - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:07 pm:

    Got to love these rating agencies. Governments, including the U.S., are deemed at risk and get a rating downgrade yet banks that were overextending themselves were A-Ok. Maybe there needs to be some thought to regulating these folks.


  18. - Judgment Day - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:10 pm:

    Ok, so we’ve got the following options:

    1) Increase taxes. Already did that, does not appear there is any substantial political appetite for more.

    2) Reduce spending. Tried, pretty much failed, couldn’t reduce spending enough anyway.

    3) Pensions and retirements. Looks to be a pretty much unsolvable mess.

    There looks to be only one other option - growth. Easier said than done.

    Well, we might have an angle, but people aren’t going to like it. We have an extremely large swath of shale formations (See Illinois Basin; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois_Basin) going through lower central Illinois and much of Southern Illinois, including into surrounding states.

    Create easy to accomplish permitting regulations in exchange for higher severance taxes. It’s called giving up something to get something. And we need to make more cash without having to first make greater outlays of cash.

    Iffy? Yes. But the point is, we need to take urgent steps to increase our cash flow. And this is a start. And it can also increase employment in areas that could use a boost.

    Desirable? Probably not. But financially, we’re well past that stage. But our entire severance tax structure for minerals and hydrocarbons needs to be increased/adjusted, but in exchange, the permitting rules and regs are going to have to be greatly simplified.

    If we do it right, we’ll start to see economic growth in those areas, and increased tax revenues as a result.

    Just an idea….


  19. - Meaningless - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:16 pm:

    It sounds like the upcoming legislative session desperately needs to get going to raise more revenue and reduce the debt. A good place to start would be to reamortize the pension liability, bring our sales tax into the 21st century by including more services, and start the ball rolling on a graduated income tax structure like our federal government and 43 other states already have. As far as sales tax, a combination of state and local taxes (8.2%) in Illinois ranks it in the top 10 of LOWEST state sales taxes. We also have to take a closer look at corporate taxes and get over all the propaganda b.s. about driving business out of the state. In an annual business climate survey, Illinois ranked 28th, right in the middle of the of the pack. New York ranked 50th and California 48th, and yet, the wealthier states are doing just fine with higher taxes. Illinois is a great place place to do business, and a great place to make HUGE profits.


  20. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:18 pm:

    Norseman, that’s what this is all about.

    The rating agencies were exposed, first, when they were passing out AAA ratings to Enron and investment grade ratings to the likes of WorldCom and Global Crossing weeks before they went bankrupt or defaulted; and later when they gave AAA ratings to the subprime mortgage securities that were propping up the world banking industry.

    There’s been a “pension crisis” in this state for 60 years. But now the rating agencies are tough guys on muni debt. Who cares? They’re an anachronism with today’s instant communications and transparency. Check out the true interest rates. The market knows.

    Once a little inflation comes along, as it inevitably will, today’s bond prices will carry a negative effective interest rate.


  21. - Secret Square - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:20 pm:

    “OK, so we’ve got the following options”

    So let me get this straight…

    I would think a fourth option would be to revise the unsustainable “ramp” payment schedule and just take more time (say, 10 or 15 years longer) to achieve full funding. That would solve the problem of pension payments eating up huge chunks of the annual budget, while insuring that the pension systems survive.

    What it would NOT do, however, is reduce the total unfunded liability, which is of prime importance to the bond houses, and that is why no one seems to be mentioning it as an option. The state has become so dependent on short-term borrowing that when Wall Street says “jump,” we have no choice to say “how high?”. Is that correct?


  22. - Reality Check - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:26 pm:

    If there is meaningful legislative action on reform, we believe that there could be implementation risk based on the potential for legal challenges, and it could be several years before reform translates into improved funded ratios and budget relief.

    In other words, work with the unions to negotiate a solution that is constitutional and real. Now.


  23. - Judgment Day - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:36 pm:

    “Maybe there needs to be some thought to regulating these folks.”

    That’s been a large part of the problem - they’re already regulated, but all the regs did was to pretty much turn the entire credit ratings area into one giant ‘private party’, where the players all had to be ‘approved’ to enter the party.

    So when the entire sub-prime MBS market took a header into the toilet, well, everybody was just following the rules and regs. And nobody in a position of authority did anything.

    Ex: See the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006 (CRARA).

    One of the effects of this ‘regulation’ was to provide the credit rating agencies with legal cover to avoid liability when the made ‘corrections’ to their errant initial ratings on all the sub-prime MBS junk they had rated as “AAA”.

    If you want more, Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has been covering the credit rating agencies forever and doing a great job at it.


  24. - Meaningless - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    Two other comments … People have to get over the simplified general statement of not “raising taxes.” There are numerous ways to generate additional tax revenue by “retructuring” our antiquated tax system. For example, research shows that a graduated state income tax structure would REDUCE the tax burden for 94% of taxpayers. Wouldn’t this be doing something for “the greatest” good for the people of the state? Also, I find Quinn’s statement about tackling the pension issue very deceitful and misleading when he portrays Senate Bill 1 as “incorporating suggestions … from labor … ” into the mix. The only suggestion from labor incorporated into any current legislation is a 2% increase in current workers contributions. This single 2% increase is totally taken out of the context that also included many suggestions for generating additional revenue and leaving the current pension structure as is, especially to avoid a needless drawn-out court battle to determine the constitutionality of “diminished” benefits.


  25. - Sgtstu - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    The continued decline in pension funded ratios is due in part to contributions below the annual required contribution, investment returns below assumptions, and lower investment return assumptions.

    Note to everyone, no where do they say it is becasue of a retired State worker who has paid in as required !!!


  26. - titan - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:01 pm:

    @geronimo - You’re essentially right, but the revenue problem is not that no money is coming in, but rather that we’re consistently spending more than is coming in.


  27. - Downstater - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:05 pm:

    Illinois Democrats=No leadership, pure and simple.


  28. - Judgment Day - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:12 pm:

    ” For example, research shows that a graduated state income tax structure would REDUCE the tax burden for 94% of taxpayers.”

    Wouldn’t that require amending the state constitution? Good luck with that one.

    Realize, when you start down that path, you also open a door for other advocacy groups to push for amending the state constitution over the state’s pension obligations.

    Are you really sure you want to go there?


  29. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:21 pm:

    ===Realize, when you start down that path, you also open a door for other advocacy groups to push===

    They might, but it would be in a separate JRCA.


  30. - titan - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:25 pm:

    @judgement day - amending the constitution as to the pension obligation might help going forward, but wouldn’t allow the state to get out of past obligations.


  31. - Shemp - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:40 pm:

    So every time I hear someone say there is a “revenue problem,” I can presume a solution on the table is higher contributions from the employee, no?


  32. - Ahoy! - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 3:43 pm:

    Not sure if someone mentioned this yet or not, but Cross’s response was actually very good. It didn’t accuse blame on the democrats and it actually sounded pragmatic. Sorry for sounding so complimentary, but as someone who’s usually bashing the guy on here I felt like giving him his due when it’s deserved.

    Anyway, we’ll see how bad it gets before action is finally taken. At the end of the day, the 4 leaders and the governor all have to be on the same page and get little a help from their members. This thing is still going to be tough and it’s unfortunate that we might have to hit rock bottom before the legislature acts.


  33. - media guy - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 4:11 pm:

    “The state’s fiscal struggles have yet to crimp demand for its debt.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-25/illinois-credit-rating-lowered-by-s-p-as-pension-burden-climbs.html


  34. - fultonfarm - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 6:41 pm:

    @meaningless,

    Why would you mention a graduated income tax. Just more money for the politicians to spend and after they spend it still blame pensions as the problem.

    Even more problematic is that you do not seem to know that it is Unconstitutional and would take a voter approved amendmemnt to change it.

    And speaking of those who seem to know nothing about the Illinois Consitution, or just don’t care, virtually every position Quinn et. al takes on pension change is also unconsitutional.

    Of course, the politicos don’t care. They just want to pass anything, say they have done something, and let the courts settle it.


  35. - reformer - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 8:42 pm:

    S & P explicitly cites the expiration of the temporary income tax hike as one of the two main risk factors to the state’s credit rating. So Rep. Schock and other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls will be advocating an even lower credit rating when they oppose extending the tax hike.


  36. - mushroom in the dark - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 10:41 pm:

    S and P ratings downgrade from the same company that the state is suing for faulty ratings? hhhhhmmmmmm?
    http://www.themreport.com/articles/illinois-attorney-general-sues-sp-over-faulty-mbs-2012-01-26

    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/04/why-listen-to-sp-on-us-debt/

    One state since the Civil War has defaulted on its bonds, Arkansas during the depression. Anyone that thinks Illinois is going to default is wrong. S and P says something and makes the state pay more for its bonds. Blames pension obligations.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/08/matt-stoller-standard-poor%E2%80%99s-predatory-policy-agenda.html


  37. - RNUG - Monday, Jan 28, 13 @ 11:00 am:

    Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jan 25, 13 @ 1:59 pm:

    As I understand it, there are two major “continuing appropriations”: pensions and bonds. If I remember correctly from the “ramp” bill, the pension funds are supposed to be paid “first”.

    I double-checked over the weekend. SB0001 has the same language as amendment 11 did, moving all past and any future state debt payments (bond, etc.) payments ahead of any of the pension payments that would be “guarenteed” by the new bill.


  38. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, Jan 28, 13 @ 7:09 pm:

    And Mr. Madigan’s response?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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