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    Entries in credit rating (4)


    The Week in Public Finance: Alaska Downgraded, Low Income-Tax Revenues and Congress Meddles in Online Sales Taxes Again

    BY  JULY 21, 2017
    The U.S. Capitol (FlickrCC/Geoff Livingston)


    Alaska Downgraded Again and Again

    Just weeks after it passed yet another budget that relied on rainy day savings, Alaska was downgraded by two credit ratings agencies.

    First came Moody’s Investors Service, which downgraded Alaska to Aa3, citing the state's continued inability to address structural fiscal challenges and come up with a complete fiscal plan. Just days later, S&P Global Ratings dropped its rating to AA. Like Moody’s, S&P chastised Alaska lawmakers: A reliance on reserves, S&P analyst Timothy Little said, “coupled with the state's economic contraction since 2012 and the fallout of oil prices in mid-2015, have reached an [unsustainable] level."

    The Takeaway: The downgrades, while not good news, should come as no surprise. Last month, S&P outright warned officials that it would downgrade the state if the governor and legislature failed to pass a sustainable budget that fully addressed its massive decline in oil revenues.

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    States Get Creative on Pension Funding

    The latest plans in California and New Jersey have observers asking: creative solution or accounting gimmick?
    BY  JULY 19, 2017
    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
    Gov. Chris Christie has hailed the lottery legislation as a foolproof way to immediately boost the health of the pension fund. (AP/Seth Wenig)

    Most states have enacted some type of reform over the past decade to shore up their pension funds for the future. But such changes have typically done little to make a dent in the liabilities that governments already have on the books.

    As those liabilities increase, states and localities are turning to more creative solutions to ease the burden.

    California and New Jersey are moving forward with plans that would boost respective pension assets, dramatically decrease unfunded liabilities and reduce payouts for the immediate future. But critics of the plans say the two states are doing nothing more than moving numbers around on paper.

    In New Jersey, the state is pledging its lottery -- which an outside analysis determined was valued at $13.5 billion -- as an asset to state pension funds. The action would reduce the pension system's $49 billion unfunded liability and improve its funded ratio from 45 percent to about 60 percent, according to State Treasurer Ford Scudder. The roughly $1 billion in annual lottery proceeds, which currently go to education and human services, among other programs, will now be divvied up among state pension funds. The largest share -- nearly 78 percent -- will go to the teachers' pension fund.

    Although unions grumbled about the plan, it passed with little public debate as lawmakers were preoccupied by budget negotiations. Gov. Chris Christie and Scudder have hailed the lottery legislation as a foolproof way to immediately boost the health of the pension fund. But others have been less enthusiastic about the plan.

    Municipal Market Analytics' Matt Fabian dubbed it an accounting scheme, noting it also places a roughly $970 million burden on New Jersey's general fund budget to pay for the programs formerly covered by the annual lottery proceeds. "We believe that, at best," Fabian wrote, "this transaction delays honestly confronting the pension liability problem."

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    Can a Cyberattack Cause a Credit Rating Downgrade?

    While it seems far-fetched, the danger is real for small governments.
    BY  JUNE 7, 2017

    Last month saw an unprecedented global ransomware attack that infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. Hospitals in the U.K. were the hardest hit as more than a dozen were forced to turn away nonemergency patients and doctors had to rely once again on pen and paper.

    The disruption has caused many to consider how vulnerable U.S. government services are to a similar attack. But some are raising the possibility of another vulnerability: That a cyberattack has the potential to lower a government’s credit rating, making borrowing to fix the problem even more expensive for taxpayers.

    The possibility seems remote: No government yet has been downgraded because of a cyberattack. But S&P Global Ratings analyst Geoff Buswick says the risk is real, particularly for smaller governments with less financial flexibility. That’s because attacks can cost a lot, but can also cost taxpayer trust. That in turn, can hinder a government’s ability to raise taxes. “As a rating analyst, I look at the willingness and ability to repay debt,” says Buswick. “Without taxpayer support you don’t have that ability.”

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    The Week in Public Finance: Bad Balancing Acts, Best Taxpayer ROI and Double Taxation

    BY  MARCH 31, 2017

    Race to the Bottom?

    New Jersey’s pension problems and Illinois’ lack of a budget continue to dog their reputation in the eyes of creditors.

    In New Jersey, Moody's downgraded the Garden State one-notch this week to A3, citing the state’s “significant pension underfunding, including growth in the state's large long-term liabilities, a persistent structural imbalance and weak fund balances.”

    It’s the 11th downgrade by a credit rating agency during Gov. Chris Christie’s more than seven years in office. Overall, New Jersey’s credit rating has fallen four notches under Christie’s watch, from what’s considered high investment grade to borderline medium grade. Meanwhile, the state's unfunded pension liability has climbed to $136 billion, which mean it has less than half of what it needs to pay its retirees down the road.

    For its part, Illinois is the only state rated lower than New Jersey.

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