Moody’s On Chicago Public Schools Crisis: Consider Tax Levy, Pension Contribution Stoppage, Or Bankruptcy

“Chicago and New York rank at the bottom of a new analysis of fiscal strength based primarily on data from 2015 financial reports issued by the cities themselves. The analysis includes 116 U.S. cities with populations greater than 200,000.

Chicago’s position at the bottom of the ranking is no surprise to anyone who follows municipal finance. The Windy City has become a poster child for financial mismanagement, having suffered a series of ratings downgrades in recent years. Aside from having thin reserves and large volumes of outstanding debt, Chicago is notorious for its underfunded pension plans…”

The Fiscal Times, January 9, 2107

Moody’s Investors Service recently weighed in on Chicago’s well-publicized financial crisis. Last Thursday its Global Credit Research division published the following on the Moody’s website:

While unfunded pension liabilities will continue weighing on the City of Chicago’s (Ba1 negative) credit profile, plans to significantly increase contributions with higher taxes is a favorable departure from prior funding practices. However, the liquidity crisis at Chicago Public Schools (CPS — B3 negative) is worsening amid a continued budget impasse at the state level, Moody’s Investors Service says in two new research reports released today…

In “City of Chicago: Frequently Asked Questions,” Moody’s says despite the city’s expanding economy, revenue growth, and healthy liquidity, its pension burden is likely to remain among the highest of any rated, major local government for many years.

“While Chicago’s recent tax increases will provide revenue to significantly increase pension funding, the city’s unfunded pension liabilities exceed seven times its revenue and are projected to grow for at least 15 more years,” says Matt Butler, Vice President of Moody’s…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The well-known credit rating agency added this about the city’s public school system:

In a separate report, “Chicago Public Schools: Frequently Asked Questions,” Moody’s states CPS’ fiscal pressures are intensifying due to depletion of reserves following years of imbalanced operations, unrealistic budget assumptions, and escalating pension costs…

Moody’s says CPS could consider more difficult options to address its finances should the State of Illinois (Baa2 negative) be unable or unwilling to provide additional relief: levy for debt service on GO alternate revenue bonds, stop making employer pension contributions, or seek state authorization to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

MarketWatch news editor Rachel Koning Beals expanded on Moody’s suggestions for dealing with the CPS situation. She wrote Saturday:

Moody’s has a revised shortlist of painful fixes for the public school system in Chicago.

One idea is to approve another increasingly politically unpopular property-tax levy to pay off debt, as the nation’s third-largest school district just issued another batch of high-interest bonds.

The second idea from the credit-ratings agency is to skip a pension payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which would come just months after the district and its teacher‘s union hammered out an 11th-hour contract to avoid a second labor strike in a span of four years.

And last resort? Just declare bankruptcy already

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Who’s the say the City will act on any of these suggestions (at least, right away)? That being said, Chicago taxpayers and CPS employees/retirees might want to take heed of all this.

Head on over to the Moody’s Investors Service website here to read the entire release from the Global Credit Research division. It ain’t pretty.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Koning Beals, Rachel. “Maybe Chicago schools should declare bankruptcy and get it over with, says Moody’s.” MarketWatch. 14 Jan. 2017. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/maybe-chicago-schools-should-declare-bankruptcy-and-get-it-over-with-says-moodys-2017-01-13). 16 Jan. 2017.

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