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Moody’s calls lockbox amendment a “credit negative”

Wednesday, Nov 9, 2016 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Press release…

On p. 6 of its special Election Edition for the Weekly Credit Outlook for Public Finance released today, Moody’s notes voters in the State of Illinois (rated Baa2/negative outlook) decision to amend their state constitution and restrict use of transportation revenues to highway, mass-transit and related projects is credit negative because it cuts off the state’s ability to draw on about $3 billion of annual transportation revenue that could otherwise help address fiscal pressure from pension contribution demands and reduced income taxes. The so-called “Lockbox Amendment” stipulates that revenue collected from the use of motor vehicles (such as fuel taxes or registration fees), or from transportation infrastructure (such as highway tolls), can be applied only to transportation purposes. The amendment means the state will lose its ability to tap transportation funds to ease budgetary pressures. Illinois’ annual income tax revenue has declined almost $5 billion since January 2015, when rate cuts took effect, while pension contribution requirements have risen by almost $1 billion.

The $3.2 billion of Illinois fuel taxes and transportation fees combined accounted for about 6% of the state’s own-source revenue. In addition, the state had $1.1 billion in highway tolls, bringing total transportation revenues subject to the new provision to $4.3 billion. While the state does not anticipate that the lockbox amendment will have a material impact on its finances, the vast majority of Illinois’ $4.3 billion in transportation-derived revenue already is allocated to transportation purposes by statute. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (Aa3/stable) collects tolls. After the authority covers principal and interest on its debt, it can only spend residual toll revenues on its highway operating and maintenance purposes. Even before the lockbox amendment, these revenues were not available to the state government for general purposes.

Illinois has reallocated funds dedicated to transportation on several occasions in recent years. The lockbox amendment would preclude such practices, in hopes of controlling a tendency to defer maintenance of transportation infrastructure. At the same time, the amendment removes the option of drawing on transportation revenue for general operating needs, which has been useful for Illinois, a state that faces an approximately $9 billion backlog in unpaid bills. The amendment also means that, as the state contemplates how to raise general operating revenue in the future, it will not be able to consider using new transportation-related taxes.

Moody’s declaration of “credit positive” or “credit negative” does not connote a rating or outlook change. It is indicative of the impact of a distinct event or development as one of many credit factors affecting the issuer.

Emphasis added because I don’t think anyone ever really focused on that point.


  1. - A guy - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 2:34 pm:

    Moody’s is showing restraint. Especially because of the emphasis you added. Ugh.

  2. - RNUG - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 2:46 pm:

    Moody’s understands this, by itself, doesn’t cut total revenue, it just limits the State’s ability to sweep the fund(s) to cover other expenses. They also understand that it will, most likely, hasten the passage of any needed tax increase.

  3. - Union Man - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 2:48 pm:

    No doubt, but just because Moody doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not good for us.

  4. - Ducky LaMoore - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 2:49 pm:

    Before everyone flips out, A tax increase is generally considered “credit positive” while a tax cut is viewed as “credit negative”. The lock-box was the right thing for the people of Illinois. I just with Bruce Rauner and Mike Madigan were the right thing for the state of Illinois… oy…. But they’re not.

  5. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 2:50 pm:

    And so the repercussions start. I’m just waiting for the “but, but, buts” refrains when it comes down to allocating revenue such as the specialty license plate fees (you listening IDNR?). Sigh.

  6. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:02 pm:

    “Now Illinois has got Wall Street as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Wall Street. Trouble with a bill, with the pensions, with social services? He can call Wall Street. But now the state’s gotta come up with Wall Street’s money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Too bad, pay me. Oh, you had a recession? Too bad, pay me. Taxpayer revolt? Too bad, pay me.”

  7. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:03 pm:

    It’s one of the reasons I voted no on the amendment.

  8. - Juvenal - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:05 pm:

    it is a feature, not a bug, Rich.

  9. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:14 pm:

    “Also, Wall Street could do anything. Especially run up the interest rates on the taxpayers’ backs. And why not? Nobody’s gonna go jail for it anyway. And as soon as the loans come in the front door, you move the cash out the back and call it swaps. You take a two hundred million dollar bond sale and you sell it again for a hundred. It doesn’t matter. It’s all profit for Wall Street bankers and lawyers. And then finally, when there’s nothing left to mortgage, when you can’t borrow another buck from the bank or buy another year of labor peace, you bust the joint out. You light a match.”

  10. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:19 pm:

    What don’t people understand about the concept of “user fees.”

    One does not need a grad school course in public finance to figure out that the concept involves not diverting it to public school and welfare subsidies.

  11. - Norseman - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:20 pm:

    67th verse, same as the first. Until we get policymakers who will exercise fiscal responsibility instead of political posturing, Moody and others will continue to note problems.

    The results of this election doesn’t give me any hope that things will change.

  12. - NoGifts - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 3:57 pm:

    Seems like moody’s would rate credit for transportation bonds separately from general state bonding now? The outlook for bonds for transportation projects should be improved?

  13. - ya never know - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:03 pm:

    ==Emphasis added because I don’t think anyone ever really focused on that point. ==

    Sorry, Rich but I completely disagree with you. This is the exact point of the amendment.

  14. - Earnest - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:13 pm:

    Based on President Elect Trump’s acceptance speech it looks like possible there will be some major infrastructure spending from the feds. Coupled with this amendment we’re going to see some major upgrades from the state.

  15. - ChrisB - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:28 pm:

    So, they’re saying that we just made our finances a little less liquid and it will affect how we can pay bills in the future.

    That’s exactly what the amendment said.

    I wish they’d do a little analysis to see whether investments in infrastructure now will save the State money down the line. My guess is yes.

  16. - Ron - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:38 pm:

    Illinois is an economic disaster. Apparently the voters love it that way.

  17. - Archiesmom - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:47 pm:

    That amendment sounded really great on the surface. But when you really start exploring the effects, most people that I talked to decided that they were going to vote against it. They liked it in principle, but had not thought out through the possible ramifications of the actual restrictions. That was never explained to the voters, either.

  18. - Whatever - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 5:51 pm:

    ==What don’t people understand about the concept of “user fees.”==

    You mean as opposed to taxes? This amendment is about taxes, not user fees. The gas tax is not a using state roads. You pay gas taxes for the stuff you put in your lawn mower or snow blower or off-road vehicle. As the PR notes, the biggest user fees — tolls — are already being spent on the toll roads.

  19. - foster brooks - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 5:53 pm:

    most people that I talked to decided that they were going to vote against it… it passed by nearly 80% lol

  20. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 5:55 pm:

    ===Illinois is an economic disaster. Apparently the voters love it that way===

    Some how, having decent roads is going to be bad for the economy? I am not trying to be flippant, will you please explain that to me?

  21. - Chris - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 6:52 pm:

    “You pay gas taxes for the stuff you put in your lawn mower or snow blower”

    That’d be a lot of mowing and blowing to add up to a rounding error on an *individual’s* gas usage over the course of a year.

    yeahyeah, farm implements *is* a valid point, but the administration cost of a split would most likely consume the vast majority of the $$ to be split out. PLUS: farmers benefit from good roads (and railroads), too.

  22. - justacitizen - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 7:34 pm:

    Voted no but fully understand why the amendment passed. IL lack of fiscal restraint/discipline and distrust of its lawmakers made this an easy win.

  23. - Excessively Rabid - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 7:53 pm:

    farm implements *is* a valid point

    Farm use is basically exempt. It’s sort of complicated but that’s what it boils down to.

  24. - Shemp - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 9:13 pm:

    - ya never know - Wednesday, Nov 9, 16 @ 4:03 pm:
    ==Emphasis added because I don’t think anyone ever really focused on that point. ==

    Sorry, Rich but I completely disagree with you. This is the exact point of the amendment

    Came here to post same thing.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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