credit ratings

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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Illinois Named Worst-Run State In America In 2014

“‘We don’t have the time to mess around. We are in deep, deep trouble financially,’ [Illinois Governor-elect Bruce] Rauner told a meeting of the Illinois Farm Bureau at a downtown Chicago hotel. ‘The next 24 months are going to be rough. And I apologize. I ain’t going to be Mr. Popularity for a little while. That’s OK. Four years from now I think, though, everybody will appreciate what we did.’”

Chicago Tribune website, December 8, 2014

Talk about lists you don’t want to be on. In 2012 and 2013, Illinois was the 3rd worst-run state in the annual best- and worst-run states in America survey conducted by New York City-based financial news and opinion organization 24/7 Wall St.

So how did the “Land of Lincoln” fare in 2014? From the 24/7 Wall St. website on December 3:

How well run is your state? Assessing a state’s management quality is hardly easy. The current economic climate and standard of living in any given state are not only the results of policy choices and developments that occurred in the last few years, but can also be affected by decisions made decades ago, and by forces outside a state’s control.

Each year, 24/7 Wall St. attempts to answer this question by surveying various aspects of each state. To determine how well states are managed, we examine key financial ratios, as well as social and economic outcomes. This year, North Dakota is the best-run state in the country for the third consecutive year, while Illinois replaced California as the worst-run state

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Ouch. Worst part is, the people who brought us this mess are the same ones still in charge, more or less. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference Governor-elect Rauner- who ran on the Republican ticket- can make in the Democrat-controlled state.

24/7 Wall St. went into more detail about my home state’s latest “honor.” From the piece:

Illinois is the worst-run state in the nation. Like many other low-ranked states, more people left Illinois than moved there. Illinois lost more than 137,000 residents due to migration between the middle of 2010 and July 2013. A poor housing market may partly explain the exodus. Median home values fell 16.2% between 2009 and 2013, the second largest drop nationwide. Illinois has extremely poor finances by many measures. Just 39.3% of Illinois’ pension liabilities were funded as of 2013, worse than any other state. Further, the state’s reserves are estimated at just 0.5% of its general fund expenditure, the second lowest reserves rate nationwide. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Illinois the worst credit ratings of any state, at A3 and A- respectively. According to Moody’s, the state’s rating reflects its low fund balances and high pension obligations, as well as its “chronic use of payment deferrals to manage operating fund cash.”

As for our neighbors, Indiana is ranked 28th and Wisconsin comes in at 26th in 2014- down from 19th and 21st- respectively.

That’s quite a hit (9 places) the Hoosiers took from last year. Wonder what’s behind the drop?

Curious as to where 24/7 Wall St. ranked your state in 2014? Head on over to their website here.

By 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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Chicago, The Writing Is On The Wall

The city of Chicago is in for some tough times down the road.

“The Machine” keeps putting a positive spin on the city’s deteriorating financial condition, but the numbers don’t lie. I’ve rattled them off time and time again, the most recent being Tuesday. The Chicago press (sans Fran Spielman over at the Chicago Sun-Times and a few others) has even caught on, publishing articles with more frequency these days that reveal just how ugly the city’s finances truly are. Case in point, a Chicago Tribune editorial entitled “Chicago is on the road to Detroit” that appeared on their website yesterday. From the piece:

By the most recent numbers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s government owes $13.9 billion in general obligation bond debt, plus $19.5 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Add in Chicago Public Schools and City Hall’s other “sister agencies” and you’re talking billions more in debts that Chicago taxpayers owe. Yet here we are on a Wednesday when the mayor probably will get approval from a derelict City Council to issue another up-to-$900 million in bonds backed by property taxes — and to double, to $1 billion, the amount of short-term bank money his administration can borrow to raise cash…

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

By the way, Mayor Emanuel got that approval. Fran Spielman reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website Wednesday morning:

Without a word of debate, the City Council on Wednesday blindly added $1.9 billion to Chicago’s mountain of debt even though aldermen have no idea how the money will be spent.

The vote was 43-to-4. “No” votes were cast by Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and John Arena (45th)…

Now, I’ve heard/read some Chicagoans say something along the lines of don’t worry about the city’s finances, Governor Quinn and the State of Illinois or President Barack Obama and the federal government will ride to the rescue of their fellow Democrats in control of the “Windy City.”

To which I say, I’m not so sure. Is there anyone in America who doesn’t know how much of an economic basket case the “Land of Lincoln” is? A $100.5 billion public pension debt and the worst credit rating of all 50 U.S. states routinely make headlines across the country. As for the federal government, I keep encountering the words “insolvent” and “bankrupt” more and more these days to describe the nation’s finances. And don’t think for a second other economically-challenged cities across the country won’t cry foul to the Oval Office and their elected representatives if Chicago is bailed out. I find it hard to believe the State of Illinois or the Feds could come to Chicago’s rescue without there being serious financial and political repercussions.

Chicago, the writing is on the wall. By the looks of things, that great city where I was born and from which I recently just left is now past the proverbial point of no return, no longer looking capable of effectively navigating the growing financial crisis.

While I don’t foresee the city’s death, I do envision a continuation of its already gradual decline until a point of fiscal implosion is reached. Will it be Detroit-esque in its bottoming out? I don’t know. But it sure as hell won’t be pretty.

Faced with such a scenario, will Chicagoans choose to stay and contend with the almost certain prospect of much higher taxes and fees in conjunction with curtailed city services (public safety comes to mind here), or will they depart the “Second City” like I did?

One might think the latter (going), but I’m sure there will be plenty of the former (staying).

In the interests of surviving and prospering, which is the better choice?

I don’t think the answer is as clear-cut as many readers might think. And it’s something I’ll be exploring and blogging about more in the coming days.

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

Sources:

“Chicago is on the road to Detroit.” Chicago Tribune. 5 Feb. 2014. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-chicago-debt-edit-0205-20140205,0,3757189.story). 6 Feb. 2014.

Spielman, Fran. “City Council OKs going $1.9 billion deeper into debt.” Chicago Sun-Times. 5 Feb. 2014. (http://www.suntimes.com/25398572-761/city-council-oks-going-19-billion-deeper-into-debt.html). 6 Feb. 2014.

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Growing Illinois Fiscal Fiasco Makes Wisconsin Relocation More Attractive

Regular readers of Survival And Prosperity may recall me blogging from time to time that as things stand, Wisconsin- not Illinois- looks to be my primary state of residence down the road. For example, I wrote back on January 29 of last year:

By the time I started this blog back in November 2010, I already had a pretty good idea I’d eventually be leaving the city of Chicago to reside someplace else. And every once in a while, I’d query the “best places” to live in America- should TSHTF or not. While the area of southeastern Wisconsin I’m looking at moving to in a few years is probably not “ideal” (even less so the suburbs of Chicago) from a prepper’s perspective, practitioners of modern survivalism would probably see more positives than negatives with the location. Keeping in mind that not only do I envision a certain lifestyle for myself down the road, but I also think I have a pretty good idea of what will be required to “survive and prosper” in America in the coming years, this part of the Midwest really appears to be a nice fit not only for me but my girlfriend as well. Here’s hoping it is…

Sure, certain Wisconsin taxes tend to be higher than in the “Land of Lincoln.” But at least it’s not a fiscal basket case, where I can envision Illinois one day leapfrogging our neighbors to the north when it comes to levels of revenue collection.

Chicago Tribune columnist Dennis Byrne reminded the paper’s readers just how precarious our financial situation has gotten here in Illinois… in addition to suggesting a state we might want to consider emulating. He wrote on the Tribune website on January 28:

Illinois is a stinking mess.

A steaming heap of suffocating debt, endless greed, blind self-interest and numbing incompetence. How we’ve been able to survive this long without plunging into the abyss is beyond me, and all reason.

No need here to document all of the state’s failures. Way behind on its bills. The nation’s worst credit rating. Higher unemployment than the nation. Business wanting to scram, fed up with an unfriendly entrepreneurial climate. Crushing pension obligations so far into the future that no one alive today, even if they ponied up every cent they made (after taxes, of course), will ever see the end of it.

Illinois is run by a self-renewing, power-hungry, piggish oligarchy so impervious to change (I hesitate to use the word reform, because true reform is as rare in Illinois as is the sight of Pike’s Peak) that it makes feudalism look good.

Don’t try to argue that a recent package of minor changes to the public employees’ pension system, grudgingly enacted by the serfs in the state legislature, is reform. Even if it were, it’s going nowhere because it will be dead on arrival in Illinois’ courts. That’s because the hoggish public employee unions were able, at the last minute, to ram into the state constitution a provision that guarantees their cupidity will be fed, well, forever.

What makes it all so vexing is how close the answer to our problems is: Wisconsin.

While Illinois is circling the drain, Wisconsin has saved itself from a similar fate and, in the aftermath of the longest-lasting recession since Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, is actually doing OK, if not prospering…

“Prospering.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard/seen that word associated with Illinois.

Which is too bad, because I really do love this state and my fellow Illinoisans.

But seeing as my goal remains not only to survive but prosper as the times become more tumultuous, Byrne’s observation further convinces me my future still lies up north.

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

Source:

Byrne, Dennis. “Illinois Should Look To Wisconsin.” Chicago Tribune. 28 Jan. 2014. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/site/ct-oped-byrne-0128-20140128,0,5528813.column). 3 Feb. 2014.

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