Standard & Poor’s

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’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

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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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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