*** UPDATE 1 *** Comptroller Mendoza…
On our 701st day without a budget, two more bond rating agencies gave Illinois the 7th and 8th credit downgrades since Gov. Rauner took office 2 ½ years ago. Before he took office, Illinois had been paying its backlog of bills down. It got down to less than $5 billion. In just two years of his failed leadership, he has about tripled that stack of unpaid bills to $14.5 billion and growing. Both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s dropped the state to one grade above junk status Thursday.
While all sides could try harder to compromise toward a budget solution as the General Assembly has with every previous governor, business groups and independent third parties put the blame for Illinois’ crisis mainly on Governor Rauner. Standard & Poor’s said in its last assessment: “Illinois’ fiscal crisis is, in our view, a man-made byproduct of policy ultimatums placed on the state budget process.” In other words, Governor Rauner has created and now owns this crisis.
In the meantime, our office will continue triaging how to make payments to Illinois’ struggling schools, nursing homes, hospice centers and aging facilities from a near-empty bank account. We’re about to reach the breaking point at which court-ordered payments will exceed the state’s revenues. Illinois’ sick, elderly, young, and most vulnerable are paying the price. This crisis is untenable, unconscionable, and unnecessary. It’s time that the Governor stop campaigning and take responsibility for his failures and fulfill his constitutional mandate to introduce a balanced budget.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Treasurer Frerichs…
“Two credit downgrades in 24 hours further underscores the need for a full, balanced budget,” Frerichs said. “My warnings were ignored and credit agencies have responded. We need a bipartisan budget now to end this crisis.”
*** UPDATE 3 *** Illinois Working Together Campaign Director Jake Lewis…
“In light of today’s downgrades, the seventh and eighth downgrades of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure, we are reminded of Rauner’s June 3, 2013 tweet:
[ *** End Of Updates *** ]
* Like the S&P downgrade earlier today, this new rating is just a single notch above junk bond status…
* Press release…
Moody’s Investors Service has lowered the rating on the State of Illinois’ general obligation (GO) bonds to Baa3 from Baa2, amid a prolonged political impasse that has prevented progress on a growing pension deficit and an increasing backlog of unpaid bills. With this action, ratings of several state debt types linked to the GO rating also were lowered: Build Illinois Bonds backed by sales tax revenues, to Baa3 from Baa2; the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority’s McCormick Place project bonds, to Ba1 from Baa3; and the state’s Civic Center program bonds, also to Ba1 from Baa3. Debt outstanding for all affected securities totals about $31.5 billion, but not all outstanding Build Illinois and Metropolitan Pier issues are rated by Moody’s. The outlook applicable to the state and these associated credits remains negative.
Legislative gridlock has sidetracked efforts not only to address pension needs but also to achieve fiscal balance, allowing a backlog of bills to approach $15 billion, or about 40% of the state’s operating budget. During the past year of fruitless negotiations and partisan wrangling, fundamental credit challenges have intensified enough to warrant a downgrade, regardless of whether a fiscal compromise is reached in an extended session. As the regular legislative session elapsed, political barriers to progress appeared to harden, indicating both the severity of the state’s challenges and the political difficulty of advocating their solutions. Extending the impasse, and the state’s embedded operating deficit of at least $5 billion (or 15% of general fund revenue) would signal further pressure on the state’s credit position. But the state’s credit could stabilize at the current level in the event of a political consensus that more closely aligns revenues and spending, without relying on unsustainable fiscal measures.
The downgrade to Baa3 for Illinois’ GO bonds is consistent with the state’s intensifying pressure from pension liabilities; by our calculation, the state’s unfunded pension liability (Moody’s adjusted net pension liability, or ANPL) for its five major plans in aggregate grew 25% in the year ended June 30, 2016, to $251 billion. The current rating also acknowledges intrinsic credit strengths, primarily the state’s sovereign powers over revenue and spending; a diverse and strong economic base with the long-term economic potential to provide for its liabilities, and statutory protections for bondholders, primarily requirements for monthly transfers in advance of semiannual debt service payment dates. During the past decade, the state’s governance framework has allowed practices that greatly offset these strengths. After eight downgrades in as many years, Illinois’ rating is an outlier among states, most of which are rated at least eight notches higher. The rating on the Build Illinois sales-tax revenue bonds is capped at the GO rating because of lack of sufficient segregation of pledged revenues from the state’s operating needs. The Met Pier and Civic Center program bonds are both rated a notch below the state GO bonds, because of the need for annual legislative appropriation of payments.
The state’s negative outlook is consistent with its potential for additional credit weakening because of a continuing political impasse that has left Illinois increasingly vulnerable to adverse revenue trends and severely underfunded retiree benefit plans.
Factors that Could Lead to an Upgrade
Implementation of a realistic plan to provide long-term funding for pension obligations
Progress in reducing payment backlog and adoption of legal framework to prevent renewed build-up of unpaid bills
Enactment of recurring fiscal measures that support expectation of sustainable, structural balance
Factors that Could Lead to a Downgrade
Continued increases in unfunded pension liabilities and indications of unwillingness to allocate sufficient resources to retiree benefits
Persistent and growing structural imbalance that pressures liquidity and increases payment backlog or bonded debt burden
Court rulings that increase the volume of payment obligations that are legally prioritized
Difficulty managing impact of any other adverse negative events, such as an unexpected economic downturn or reduction of federal Medicaid funding
Failure to enact legislation providing for timely payment of subject-to-appropriation debt
* Let’s revisit…
The governor said negotiations stalled over term limits, local government consolidation, workers’ compensation and a property tax freeze.
None of which were mentioned by Moody’s, of course.