credit rating agencies

Crain’s Chicago Business: Pension Reform Ruling Could Cost Taxpayers Extra $200 Million A Year Through End Of Decade

In my Sunday post about Chicago’s pension reform legislation being ruled unconstitutional, I blogged:

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

How many hundreds of millions are we talking about here?

Greg Hinz wrote in his blog on the Crain’s Chicago Business website Monday:

The court decision throwing out a deal to refinance two Chicago pension funds appears to be among the most costly in the city’s history, in some ways ranking right up there with the Great Chicago Fire.

Exact figures are not available and vary some depending on who’s doing the estimating. But based on statements by city officials and documents filed by the pension funds themselves, it’s likely that the decision by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak will cost city taxpayers around $200 million a year through the end of the decade—and will keep rising for decades thereafter.

“You’d have to go back to either the Depression or the Great Fire to find a comparable situation in which the city faced either greater challenges or more painful decisions,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said. “It’s clearly going to result in increased taxes and reduced services.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Remember, that additional $200 million hit to Chicago taxpayers would come on top of addressing fire and police pensions. And bailing out the Chicago Public Schools, which had its credit rating reduced to junk status today by Fitch Ratings. In May, I noted Moody’s downgraded the Chicago Board of Education (the primary debt issuers of CPS) three notches to junk.

You can read Hinz’s entire blog post on the Crain’s Chicago Business website here. If I were still a Chicago resident, I’d probably find it disturbing. But at least I’d be clued in as to what could be coming down the line.

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

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Judge Rules Chicago’s Pension Reform Legislation Unconstitutional

Here’s the latest on Chicago’s public pension crisis. Hal Dardick and Rick Pearson reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it will appeal a Cook County judge’s decision Friday that ruled unconstitutional a state law reducing municipal worker pension benefits in exchange for a city guarantee to fix their underfunded retirement systems.

The 35-page ruling by Judge Rita Novak, slapping down the city’s arguments point by point, could have wide-ranging effects if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. Her decision appeared to also discredit efforts at the state and Cook County levels to try to curb pension benefits to rein in growing costs that threaten funding for government services.

The issue of underfunded pensions, and how to restore their financial health, is crucial for the city and its taxpayers. The city workers and laborers funds at issue in Friday’s ruling are more than $8 billion short of what’s needed to meet obligations — and are at risk of going broke within 13 years — after many years of low investment returns fueled by recession and inadequate funding.

Without reducing benefits paid to retired workers, or requiring current workers to pay more, taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

And the City’s response to the ruling? Mayor Emanuel’s Press Office countered Friday:

Statement of City of Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton on SB1922

“While we are disappointed by the trial court’s ruling, we have always recognized that this matter will ultimately be resolved by the Illinois Supreme Court. We now look forward to having our arguments heard there. We continue to strongly believe that the City’s pension reform legislation, unlike the State legislation held unconstitutional this past spring, does not diminish or impair pension benefits, but rather preserves and protects them. This law not only rescues the municipal and laborer pension funds from certain insolvency, but ensures that, over time, they will be fully funded and the 61,000 affected City workers and retirees will receive the pensions they were promised.”

As to the City of Chicago’s credit rating possibly getting whacked after the decision? Timothy W. Martin reported on The Wall Street Journal website Friday afternoon:

Moody’s said Friday’s ruling had no effect on Chicago’s bond grade. But rival Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which currently has an investment-grade rating for the city, said that “regardless of the ultimate outcome” of Mr. Emanuel’s pension law, it “will likely lower” its Chicago rating in the next six months, unless city leaders chart out a solution to address its pension problems.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Like I’ve been saying for a couple years now, that proverbial brick wall keeps approaching for Chicago.

Since City Hall can’t get its affairs in order, Chicagoans might want to look at straightening out theirs if they intend to stick around for the long haul.

Sources:

Dardick, Hal and Pearson, Rick. “Judge finds city’s changes to pension funds unconstitutional.” Chicago Tribune. 24 July 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-pension-ruling-met-20150724-story.html). 25 July 2015.

Martin, Timothy W. “Chicago’s Pension Overhaul Plan Tossed Out by Judge.” The Wall Street Journal. 24 July 2015. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/judge-rules-2014-law-to-reduce-chicago-pension-shortfall-unconstitutional-1437754525). 25 July 2015.

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S&P Cuts Chicago’s Credit Rating Twice In Less Than 2 Months

Surprise, surprise. The City of Chicago’s credit rating was lowered yet again.

This time, it’s Standard & Poor’s that did the cutting.

Karen Pierog and Tanvi Mehta reported on the Reuters website last night:

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services cut Chicago’s credit rating one notch to BBB-plus with a negative outlook on Wednesday, citing the windy city’s nagging structural budget deficit and the lack of a plan to close it.

S&P analyst John Kenward said the U.S.’ third-largest city needs “a credible, public, detailed plan” to deal with budget gaps projected to grow to $588 million in fiscal 2017, largely due to escalating contributions to its police and fire fighter retirement funds.

S&P also warned Chicago’s general obligation bond rating may fall further if a credible plan does not surface within six months…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

According to the S&P website, “BBB” indicates:

Adequate protection parameters. However, adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances are more likely to lead to a weakened capacity of the obligor to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.

It was less than two months ago that Standard & Poor’s last downgraded the City of Chicago’s credit rating. I blogged on May 17:

Standard & Poor’s joined in on the downgrade parade later in the week. From a press release Friday:

Chicago, IL GO Bond Ratings Lowered To #A-# From #A+#, Placed On CreditWatch Due To Short-Term Liquidity Pressure
CHICAGO–15 May–Standard & Poor’s

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) May 14, 2015–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating to ‘A-‘ from ‘A+’ on the city of Chicago’s outstanding general obligation (GO) bonds, and placed the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications…

Stay tuned…

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

Source:

Mehta, Tanvi and Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 1-S&P downgrades Chicago’s GO bond rating to BBB-plus.” Reuters. 8 July 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/usa-chicago-sp-idUSL3N0ZO60H20150708). 9 July 2015.

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Chicago Tribune: ‘Chicagoans Should Consider A Modest Property Tax Increase Inevitable’

Coming on the heels of last Thursday’s post and an earlier one about Chicago-area property/other taxes was an article by Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris entitled “Chicago isn’t Detroit- and it’s not going bankrupt.”

In the June 20 piece, Harris attempted to argue exactly what the title says (critics are panning it as “Machine”/union propaganda). But what interested me were statements like this:

More revenue will be required soon, most likely in the form of a property tax increase.

Not only is Chicago’s property tax rate lower than those in many suburbs, Chicago’s effective property tax rate ranked 49th out of the 50 largest cities in each state, according to 2009 U.S. Census data…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And this:

Chicagoans should consider a modest property tax increase inevitable, though how much of an increase it will be could be affected by Moody’s decision, which made it more expensive for Chicago to borrow money…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

If one believes claims the Chicago news media routinely carries Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s water, increased tax hike chatter and growing comparisons of the city to other municipalities by the local press could be sending a strong signal to Chicagoans that they’ll be required to bust out their wallets shortly.

You can read the rest of that column on the Chicago Tribune website here (registration required)

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

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Moody’s Downgrades Cook County’s Credit Rating, Issues Negative Outlook

The following is kind of stale, but the local press didn’t really publicize it and Cook County residents are entitled to know the financial health of the local government unit in these uncertain times. The Global Credit Research division of Moody’s announced on their website back on June 5:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Cook County, IL’s GO to A2 from A1; outlook negative

A2 rating applies to $3.6B of GO debt

New York, June 05, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to A2 from A1 the rating on Cook County, IL’s general obligation (GO) debt. The county has $3.6 billion in GO debt outstanding. The outlook remains negative…

The Global Credit Research division explained:

The A2 rating incorporates credit pressures associated with Cook County’s unfunded pension liabilities. Based on the Illinois Supreme Court’s May 8 overruling of the State of Illinois’ (A3 negative) pension reforms, we perceive increased risk that the county’s options for reducing unfunded pension liabilities have narrowed considerably. As it currently stands, Cook County-despite its home rule status-has little direct control over its single largest liability. Whether or not the statute that governs Cook County’s pension plan stands, we expect pension-related costs will place increasing strain on the county’s financial operations. Furthermore, approximately half of Cook County’s tax base is highly leveraged by the debt and unfunded pension liabilities of the City of Chicago (Ba1 negative) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) (Ba3 negative). We believe that the revenue demands of these entities could place practical limitations on the county’s ability and willingness to increase revenue to fund its pension costs. Other credit challenges for the county include enterprise risks inherent in operating the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS)…

As for that negative outlook:

The negative outlook reflects our view that Cook County’s credit quality could weaken given continued uncertainty in the county’s future pension funding framework. Our outlook on the county’s credit is also informed by our expectation of growth in the pension costs of the local governments that share half of the county’s tax base. Finally, the negative outlook incorporates continued pressures in the health care sector, improved financial results for CCHHS notwithstanding…

On June 8, the major U.S. credit rating agency also announced a downgrade of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s general obligation debt to A2 from A1, with a negative outlook as well.

You can read that entire June 5 Moody’s rating action on their website here.

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

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Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government No Comments

Chicago’s Credit Rating Lowered By Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s

The three major U.S. credit rating agencies have downgraded the City of Chicago this past week. Last Tuesday, Moody’s announced on its website:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Chicago, IL to Ba1, affecting $8.9B of GO, sales, and motor fuel tax debt; outlook negative

Also downgrades senior and second lien water bonds to Baa1 and Baa2 and downgrades senior and second lien sewer bonds to Baa2 and Baa3, affecting $3.8B; outlook negative

New York, May 12, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Ba1 from Baa2 the rating on the City of Chicago, IL’s $8.1 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt; $542 million of outstanding sales tax revenue debt; and $268 million of outstanding and authorized motor fuel tax revenue debt…

In case readers didn’t notice, that was a two-notch downgrade from “Baa2” to “Ba1.”

According to Moody’s “US Municipal Ratings,” “Ba” indicates “Issuers or issues rated Ba demonstrate below-average creditworthiness relative to other US municipal or tax-exempt issuers or issues.”

In other words, “junk.”

A day later, Moody’s was at it again, lowering the Chicago Board of Education’s credit rating. From their site on May 13:

Moody’s downgrades Chicago Board of Education, IL’s GO to Ba3; outlook negative

Ba3 rating applies to $6.2 billion of GO debt

New York, May 13, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Ba3 from Baa3 the rating on the Chicago Board of Education, IL’s $6.2 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt. The Chicago Board of Education is the primary debt issuer for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) (the district). The outlook remains negative…

A three-notch downgrade. And even worse “junk.”

Standard & Poor’s joined in on the downgrade parade later in the week. From a press release Friday:

Chicago, IL GO Bond Ratings Lowered To #A-# From #A+#, Placed On CreditWatch Due To Short-Term Liquidity Pressure

CHICAGO–15 May–Standard & Poor’s

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) May 14, 2015–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating to ‘A-‘ from ‘A+’ on the city of Chicago’s outstanding general obligation (GO) bonds, and placed the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications…

According to the S&P website, “A” indicates:

Somewhat more susceptible to the adverse effects of changes in circumstances and economic conditions than obligations in higher-rated categories. However, the obligor’s capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is still strong.

Fitch Ratings was the last of the three major credit rating agencies to the party, releasing the following Friday on their website:

Fitch Downgrades Chicago, IL’s ULTGOs and Sales Tax Bonds to ‘BBB+’; Ratings on Negative Watch

Fitch Ratings-New York-15 May 2015: Fitch Ratings has downgraded the ratings on the following Chicago, Illinois obligations:

–$8.1 billion unlimited tax GO bonds to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘;
–$546.5 million (accreted value) sales tax bonds to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘;
–$200 million commercial paper notes, 2002 program series A (tax exempt) and B (taxable) bank bond ratings to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB+’.

At the same time, the ratings have been placed on Negative Watch…

According to the Fitch Ratings website, “BBB” indicates:

Expectations of default risk are currently low. The capacity for payment of financial commitments is considered adequate but adverse business or economic conditions are more likely to impair this capacity.

You can read the May 12 Moody’s press release on their website here. The May 13 Moody’s release is here. Standard & Poor’s press release can be found here (on thailand4.com) and the Fitch Ratings release on their website here.

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

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Chicago Warned By Moody’s About Pension Liabilities

In early April, Standard & Poor’s warned the City of Chicago:

If the city doesn’t find structural solutions, a downgrade of more than one notch is possible.

In our view, if the city fails to articulate and implement a plan by the end of 2015 to sustainably fund its pension contributions, or if it substantially draws down its reserves to fund the contributions, we will likely lower the rating.

Now Moody’s has fired a shot across the city’s bow in 2015. From their Global Credit Research unit on Friday:

Chicago’s (Baa2 negative) pension plans face an uncertain future. Statutes that govern the city’s pension funding requirements have come under legal and political fire, particularly during the last year, as pensioners, politicians, taxpayers and investors have questioned the laws’ constitutionality and affordability, Moody’s Investors Service says in a new report.

Regardless of the ultimate answers, one outcome is certain: Chicago’s unfunded pension liabilities and ongoing pension costs will grow significantly, forcing city officials to make difficult decisions for years to come.

If current laws stand, Chicago’s annual pension contributions are projected to increase by 135% in 2016; by an average annual rate of 8% in 2017-21; and by an average annual rate of 3% in 2022-26.

The 2016 increase alone equals a significant 15% of the city’s 2013 operating revenue, Moody’s says in “Chicago’s Pension Forecast — Tough Choices Now or Tougher Choices Later.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Touch Choices Now or Tougher Choices Later.” That pretty much sums up the situation not only in the “Windy City,” but in the state of Illinois as well.

Blame Emanuel? Blame Rauner? Whatever. As is if these guys have been around long enough to help put Chicagoans and Illinoisans in their respective financial messes.

You can read the rest of the Moody’s news release on their website here.

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

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Standard & Poor’s Warns Chicago ‘Downgrade Of More Than One Notch Is Possible’

Not too much talk about the following last week in the Chicago-area news. From Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson over on S&P’s Global Credit Portal website on April 9:

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) April 9, 2015–After months of campaigning and uncertainty, Chicago (A+/Negative general obligation debt rating) can get back to the business of running itself. As such, we expect Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attention to be focused on the city’s budget challenges, namely its ballooning pension obligation.

During the course of the election — and particularly during the runoff — Mayor Emanuel avoided addressing the possibility of property tax increases to help pay for these pension obligations.

“Following Tuesday’s vote, in order to maintain its current rating, we expect the administration to address the pension and budget challenges head on by providing solutions that will support the city’s credit strengths in the near and far term,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson.

Our ‘A+’ rating is predicated on Chicago’s ability to make the changes necessary to address its budget gap and pension problem. However, even with this ability, to ensure long-term stability Chicago still needs to demonstrate its willingness to make difficult choices that address its budget issues.

Otherwise, the ‘A+’ rating could be severely pressured. Our negative rating outlook reflects the city’s fiscal pressures. If the city doesn’t find structural solutions, a downgrade of more than one notch is possible.

In our view, if the city fails to articulate and implement a plan by the end of 2015 to sustainably fund its pension contributions, or if it substantially draws down its reserves to fund the contributions, we will likely lower the rating. This is regardless of whatever relief the state legislature may or may not provide. We will likely affirm the rating and revise the outlook to stable if Chicago is able to successfully absorb its higher pension costs while maintaining balanced budgetary performance and reserves at or near their current level…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

To date, a different credit rating agency- Moody’s- has been making the most noise about the City of Chicago’s financial woes. Yvette Shields reported on The Bond Buyer website on April 6:

The city has suffered a steep credit rating slide and further credit deterioration is threatened.

Chicago’s GO ratings range from a low of Baa2 — two notches above speculative grade — from Moody’s to a high of A-plus from Standard & Poor’s…

“A-plus.” That may not be the case at year end.

You can read that entire Standard & Poor’s piece on the Global Credit Portal here.

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

Source:

Shields, Yvette. “Big Stakes as Market Awaits Chicago’s Mayoral Pick.” The Bond Buyer. 6 Apr. 2015. (http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/regionalnews/big-stakes-as-market-awaits-chicagos-mayoral-pick-1071986-1.html). 16 Apr. 2015.

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Thursday, April 16th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government, Taxes No Comments

Chicago To Be Run By Emergency Financial Control Board Within 2 Years?

Last Wednesday, I reminded Survival And Prosperity readers (local ones in particular) that Chicago- upon reelecting Rahm Emanuel as Mayor- remains in serious financial trouble. From that post:

As Rahm Emanuel enters his second term as Mayor of Chicago, I feel that proverbial brick wall is still fast-approaching.

Perhaps the best Chicagoans can hope for at this point is a controlled crash landing.

I know one thing. If I were still living in the city, I’d be preparing for the coming carnage…

Some readers might feel I was being a little too “sensational” with that statement. Therefore, I’d like to offer up the following for your consideration. Reuters’ Megan Davies and Karen Pierog reported on April 8:

Chicago has not seen the population losses Detroit did and its business and commercial real estate markets remain healthy, but its current circumstances are more dire than any other major American city today, with aggregate debt of $21.4 billion, up 60 percent since 2004.

Although Chicago’s situation isn’t bad enough yet to warrant a bankruptcy filing, that threat is out there if it fails to tackle its problems.

“People say Chicago’s not Detroit,” said Tom Metzold, a senior portfolio advisor at investment manager Eaton Vance. “Not right now. Chicago is Detroit ten years from now. I don’t care how economically strong your economy is. They don’t have a printing press. You can only tax so much.”

Metzold estimated the odds of a Chapter 9 bankruptcy in the next five years are “virtually zero” but said in the next 10 years that could rise to 25 percent if it fails to act

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

In case readers are wondering, Metzold’s s “Street cred” includes serving as VP and Co-Director of Municipal Investments at Eaton Vance (one of the oldest investment management firms in the U.S.- established 1924), and as its Portfolio Manager since 1991.

Not as “optimistic” about Chicago’s financial future is Joe Mysak, Editor of Bloomberg Brief. He warned in an April 8 commentary:

I’m not a betting man. If I were, I’d bet that Chicago is going to be run by an Emergency Financial Control Board, or something like it, within two years, the same as New York City back in 1975 (and until 1986)…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Mysak, who’s been covering the municipal bond market since 1981, pointed out the city’s abysmal Moody’s credit rating (“one step from the basement of investment grade”) and wrote:

So a cut to junk may well be in the cards, and with it diminished and eventually lack of access to capital. Chicago has already creatively used, and some would say abused, the municipal market to subsidize city operations…

When the banks no longer want to lend to Chicago is presumably when the state of Illinois would come in, offering cash, loan guarantees, intercession with the federal government and whatever else the city needs in exchange for external management via an Emergency Financial Control Board…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The author of the Encyclopedia of Municipal Bonds signed-off with:

Two years. That’s how long I give the city of Chicago. Good luck, Rahm.

Good luck Chicago…

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

Sources:

Davies, Megan and Pierog, Karen. “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel confronts fiscal nightmare as he begins second term.” Reuters. 8 Apr. 2015. (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/04/chicago-mayor-rahm-emanuel-confronts-fiscal-nightmare-as-he-begins-second-term/). 12 Apr. 2015.

Mysak, Joe. “Next Stop for Chicago: Emergency Financial Control Board.” Bloomberg Brief. 8 Apr. 2015. (http://newsletters.briefs.bloomberg.com/document/3fz176niqylzjr6oax/commentary). 12 Apr. 2015.

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Moody’s Downgrades Chicago’s Credit Rating Yet Again, Issues Negative Outlook

Chicago’s financial health is still pretty bleak in 2015.

Almost one year ago to this day, I blogged about bond credit rating giant Moody’s Investor Service downgrading the City of Chicago’s general obligation (GO) and sales tax ratings to Baa1 from A3, affecting $8.3 billion of GO and sales tax debt. I added last March:

According to Moody’s, “Obligations rated Baa are judged to be medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics.”

Just before the weekend, Moody’s downgraded Chicago’s credit rating yet again. The Global Credit Research division announced on the Moody’s website under “Ratings News” Friday:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Chicago, IL to Baa2; maintains negative outlook

Baa2 applies to $8.3B of GO debt, $542M of sales tax debt, and $268M of motor fuel tax debt

New York, February 27, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Baa2 from Baa1 the rating on the City of Chicago, IL’s $8.3 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt, $542 million of outstanding sales tax revenue debt, and $268 million of outstanding or authorized motor fuel tax revenue debt. We have also downgraded to Speculative Grade (SG) from VMIG 3 the short-term rating on the city’s outstanding Sales Tax Revenue Refunding Bonds, Variable Rate Series 2002. The outlook on the long-term ratings remains negative…

“The outlook on the long-term ratings remains negative”

Kind of hard to get excited about the “Windy City’s” prospects after reading that.

To be fair, some are suggesting the credit rating downgrades are being influenced by City Hall in order to avoid meeting certain financial obligations (i.e., Chicago’s well-publicized public pension crisis).

“We ain’t got it.”

You can read the entire Moody’s press release on their website here.

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

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Cook County Residents To Get Hit With Tax Hikes Soon?

For a while now (last time being earlier this week), I told my girlfriend we were lucky to have escaped the fiscal debacle and revenue grab going on in the city of Chicago.

At the same time, I pointed out that as Cook County residents we’re still on the hook for the same type of nonsense.

Brian Slodysko reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website yesterday afternoon:

Hoping to ward off another credit rating downgrade, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday that she will soon present a plan to reform the county’s underfunded pension system.

And she’s leaving the door open to hiking property, sales and other taxes.

When asked repeatedly about the possibility of tax increases, Preckwinkle responded: “We’re looking at all the options. Everything is on the table.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Slodysko added later in the piece:

Preckwinkle declined to discuss specifics, but she did say that any plan that goes before the Legislature will not have property tax increase language written into the bill

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Okaaay… so that means Preckwinkle’s not “leaving the door open” to hiking property taxes?

Regardless, based on what I see coming down the line for us, it’s only a matter of time.

Last summer, Cook County saw its bond rating lowered by one of the major credit rating agencies supposedly due to its public pension liabilities. I blogged on August 20, 2013:

In the wake of significantly downgrading the City of Chicago’s credit rating, bond credit rating giant Moody’s Investor Service lowered Cook County’s bond rating a notch last Friday. In a news release from the Moody’s website right before the weekend:

New York, August 16, 2013 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the rating on Cook County’s (IL) general obligation (GO) debt to A1 from Aa3, affecting $3.7 billion of general obligation debt. The outlook remains negative.

SUMMARY RATING RATIONALE

The downgrade of the GO rating reflects Cook County’s growing pension liabilities…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Stay tuned…

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

Source:

Slodysko, Brian. “Preckwinkle won’t rule out tax increase to strike pension deal.” Chicago Sun-Times. 9 Apr. 2014. (http://politics.suntimes.com/article/chicago/preckwinkle-wont-rule-out-tax-increase-strike-pension-deal/wed-04092014-523pm). 10 Apr. 2014.

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Moody’s Downgrades Chicago’s Credit Rating Again, Issues Negative Outlook

Just as I was about to blog about prepping tonight I observed the following splashed on the homepage of the Chicago Tribune website:

Chicago credit rating takes major hit

Chicago’s financial standing took a hit Tuesday when a major bond rating agency once again downgraded the city’s credit worthiness…

No surprise there, all things considered. No real effort has been made to tackle Chicago’s financial woes, which led to bond credit rating giant Moody’s Investor Service downgrading the City of Chicago’s general obligation (GO) and sales tax ratings to A3 from Aa3, water and sewer senior lien revenue ratings to A1 from Aa2, and water and sewer second lien revenue ratings to A2 from Aa3 back on July 17, 2013.

After seeing that headline, I decided to head over to Moody’s Investors Service website to check out the latest “Ratings News,” where the following was posted:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Chicago, IL to Baa1 from A3, affecting $8.3 billion of GO and sales tax debt…

Also downgrades water and sewer senior lien revenue bonds to A2 from A1 and second lien revenue bonds to A3 from A2, affecting $3.3 billion of debt; outlook negative for all ratings…

According to Moody’s, “Obligations rated Baa are judged to be medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics.”

Their Global Credit Research unit added:

The Baa1 rating on Chicago’s GO debt reflects the city’s massive and growing unfunded pension liabilities, which threaten the city’s fiscal solvency absent major revenue and other budgetary adjustments adopted in the near term and sustained for years to come. The size of Chicago’s unfunded pension liabilities makes it an extreme outlier, as indicated by the city’s fiscal 2012 adjusted net pension liability (ANPL) of 8.0 times operating revenue, which is the highest of any rated US local government. While the Illinois General Assembly’s recent passage of pension reforms for the State of Illinois (A3 negative) and the Chicago Park District (CPD) (A1 negative) suggests that reforms may soon be forthcoming for Chicago, we expect that any cost savings of such reforms will not alleviate the need for substantial new revenue and fiscal adjustments in order to meet the city’s long-deferred pension funding needs. We expect that the city’s pension contributions will continue to fall below those based on actuarial standards. The city’s slowly-amortizing debt levels are also large and growing. The Baa1 rating also incorporates credit strengths including Chicago’s large tax base that sits at the center of one of the nation’s most diverse regional economies and the city’s broad legal authority to raise revenue…

You can read the entire Moody’s piece about the downgrade on their website here.

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

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WSJ Calls Proposed ‘Fix’ To Illinois Public Pension Crisis ‘Fake’

Today’s the day Illinois lawmakers may vote on SB0001 to “fix” the state’s $100 billion public pension crisis.

But according to the Wall Street Journal last night, the whole thing’s a “fake.”

From the WSJ website Monday evening:

Illinois’s Fake Pension Fix

Democrats in Illinois have dug a $100 billion pension hole, and now they want Republicans to rescue them by voting for a plan that would merely delay the fiscal reckoning while helping to re-elect Governor Pat Quinn. The cuckolded GOP seems happy to oblige on this quarter-baked reform.

Legislative leaders plan to vote Tuesday on a bill that Mr. Quinn hails as a great achievement. But the plan merely tinkers around the edges to save a fanciful $155 billion over 30 years, shaves the state’s unfunded liability by at most 20%, and does nothing for Chicago’s $20 billion pension hole.

Most of the putative savings would come from trimming benefits for younger workers. The retirement age for current workers would increase on a graduated scale by four months for 45-year-olds to five years for those 30 and under. Teachers now in their 20s would have to wait until the ripe, old age of 60 to retire, but they’d still draw pensions worth 75% of their final salary.

Salaries for calculating pensions would also be capped at $109,971, which would increase over time with inflation. Yet Democrats cracked this ceiling by grandfathering in pensions for workers whose salaries currently top or will exceed the cap due to raises in collective-bargaining agreements.

Democrats are also offering defined-contribution plans as a sop to Republicans who are desperate to dress up this turkey of a deal. These plans would only be available to 5% of workers hired before 2011. Why only 5%? Because if too many workers opt out of the traditional pension, there might not be enough new workers to fund the overpromises Democrats have made to current pensioners.

At private companies, such 401(k)-style plans are private property that workers keep if they move to a new job. But the Illinois version gives the state control over the new defined-contribution plans and lets the legislature raid the individual accounts at anytime. That’s a scam, not a reform.

Even under the most optimistic forecasts, these nips and tucks would only slim the state’s pension liability down to $80 billion— which is where it was after Governor Quinn signed de minimis fixes in spring 2010 to get him past that year’s election…

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

“Would only slim the state’s pension liability down to $80 billion.”

Sounds like this legislation would only “kick the can down the road” as the public pension crisis is concerned- once again.

I shouldn’t be surprised to read any of this.

After all, it’s what Illinois state legislators have been doing for quite some time now on this issue.

At the end of the day- including today, if a pension “fix” is signed into law- it looks as if public sector retirees participating in these particular pensions are the ones who will be most screwed.

Illinois taxpayers won’t be far behind.

Consider what Kenneth Griffin, the richest Chicagoan and Illinoisan who’s also CEO of the global financial institution Citadel Group, had to say in a Chicago Tribune piece on November 29:

The bitter truth is that our politicians have sold government employees a fraudulent bill of goods. Absent extraordinary economic growth, our state is going to collapse under the weight of generous pension promises made by union leaders and politicians. And with each passing day, the $100 billion gap between what has been promised and what is provided for grows by roughly $5 million.

Here is where this story will inevitably end: Our state is going to be forced to break its promises to our government employees and retirees. They will receive less than they bargained for. Our state’s taxpayers will see the 67 percent “temporary” tax increase converted into a permanent tax increase. And soon we will hear that even further tax increases are needed to meet our obligations. This is the price we are all going to pay for sending the wrong leaders to Springfield for too many years.

I don’t think shaving $20 billion off that total will change Griffin’s prognosis much.

An $80 billion public pension funding gap.

Wonder if that will fake out the credit rating agencies?

Something tells me it won’t, and rewinding the clock only three-and-a-half years will still leave us with an ongoing public pension crisis.

The Wall Street Journal did a nice job picking apart the proposed “fix.” You can read the entire article on the WSJ website here or on the Illinois Policy Institute’s website here.

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

Source:

Griffin, Kenneth. “Guaranteeing financial ruin in Illinois.” Chicago Tribune. 29 Nov. 2013. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-11-29/site/ct-illinois-pension-reform-financia-ruin-1129-20131129_1_tax-increase-state-income-tax-bill). 3 Dec. 2013.

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Moody’s Downgrades Chicago Transit Authority Bonds From Aa3 to A1, Says Outlook Negative

Moody’s Investors Service has dealt Chicago another ratings blow. In this case, it’s the Chicago Transit Authority. From a Global Credit Research news release last Friday:

New York, October 25, 2013 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the Chicago Transit Authority’s $2.9 billion outstanding sales tax revenue bonds to A1 from Aa3 and revised the outlook to negative from stable. Also affected are approximately $77 million of authority lease bonds issued by the Chicago Public Building Commission, which have been downgraded to A2.

According to Moody’s rating scale, this CTA debt has gone from being “high quality” and “subject to very low credit risk” to “upper-medium grade” and “subject to low credit risk.”

The well-known credit rating agency added:

The rating assigned to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) sales-tax backed debt has relied partly on active management — the ability to increase pledged revenue to allow for new debt and to maintain debt-service coverage. Two main factors now indicate weaker CTA credit quality. First, in view of growing credit pressures on Chicago (A3/negative), Cook County (A1/negative), and the State of Illinois (A3/negative), we believe the political will to impose further revenue increases has diminished. Second, the CTA system faces growing deferred maintenance and capital needs that will require funding from new debt issuance and other sources, at a time when state and federal support is likely to dwindle. Despite the recent improvement in pledged revenues driven by the national economic recovery, debt service coverage levels are likely to decrease in coming years. A backlog of pledged state matching payments, though recently reduced, will remain a long-term challenge and may be exacerbated by impending state income tax cuts and the state’s massive pension deficits. CTA’s own increasing pension challenges may strain its operating budget. Together, these factors have added to the importance of distinctions between CTA’s sales-tax bonds and those issued by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA, Aa3/stable), a transit oversight body with a prior claim on the same regional sales taxes and a more conservative additional debt limit.

You can read the entire news release on the Moody’s website here.

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

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Monday, October 28th, 2013 Bonds, Credit, Government, Taxes, Transportation No Comments

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton Says No State Public Pension Crisis

“Five million dollars a day. That’s the cost of Illinois’ unresolved pension crisis.”

-Jay Levine, Channel 2 News (Chicago CBS affiliate) reporter, October 18, 2013

Five million dollars a day being flushed down the toilet because Illinois politicians haven’t tackled the state’s public pension crisis.

By the way, that pension liability now amounts to a worst-in-the-nation $100 billion last I heard.

And here’s what Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said yesterday about the ongoing fiasco. From the Chicago Tribune website this morning:

“People really misunderstand the nature of this whole problem. Quite frankly, I don’t think you can use the word ‘crisis’ to describe it at the state level,” Cullerton said in an interview on WGN-AM radio.

“It’s something we have to deal with, but it’s not something that we’re on the verge of bankruptcy on,” Cullerton said.

The term “Ivory Tower” comes to mind here.

Meanwhile, it’s probably just a matter of time now before a major credit rating agency downgrades the State’s debt yet again due to the inability of the political leadership to deal with the crisis.

According to the Illinois Watchdog website, Illinois has seen its credit downgraded 16 times since 2003, with both Fitch and Standard and Poor’s currently assigning an “A-” rating to its debt.

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

Sources:

Levine, Jay. “Lawmakers May Take Up Pension Reform, Gun Control In Veto Session.” CBS Chicago. 18 Oct. 2013. (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/10/18/lawmakers-may-take-up-pension-reform-gun-control-in-veto-session/). 21 Oct. 2013.

“Cullerton: Illinois pension debt not a ‘crisis'” Chicago Tribune. 21 Oct. 2013. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/clout/chi-cullerton-pension-debt-not-a-crisis-but-about-lowering-taxes-20131020,0,4245590.story). 21 Oct. 2013.

Yount, Ben. “Illinois can stand as a lesson in government-gone-wild.” Illinois Watchdog. 10 Oct. 2013. (http://watchdog.org/110131/illinois-can-stand-as-a-lesson-in-government-gone-wild/). 21 Oct. 2013.

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