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MOODY'S ASSIGNS Aa1 RATING TO $43 MILLION STATE OF OREGON GENERAL OBLIGATION ALTERNATE ENERGY PROJECT BONDS

Global Credit Research - 07 Mar 2011

OUTLOOK IS STABLE

State
OR

Moody's Rating

ISSUE

RATING

General Obligation Alternate Energy Project Bonds, 2011 Series A (Tax-Exempt)

Aa1

  Sale Amount

$20,800,000

  Expected Sale Date

03/10/11

  Rating Description

General Obligation

 

General Obligation Alternate Energy Project Bonds, 2011 Series B (Tax-Exempt-AMT)

Aa1

  Sale Amount

$23,000,000

  Expected Sale Date

03/10/11

  Rating Description

General Obligation

 

Opinion

NEW YORK, Mar 7, 2011 -- Moody's Investors Service has assigned a rating of Aa1 with a stable outlook to the State of Oregon's 2011 General Obligation Bonds, consisting of $20.8 million 2011 Series A (Tax-Exempt), and $23 million 2011 Series B (Tax-Exempt, subject to AMT). The bonds are expected to sell on or about March 10th. Proceeds will be used to refund outstanding bonds and finance a variety of energy improvement, conservation and renewable energy projects in Oregon.

RATINGS RATIONALE

The general obligation rating reflects the state's maintenance of moderate reserve levels during the current economic downturn; effective management of voter initiatives in the context of maintaining budget balance; higher than average unemployment; and a revenue structure that is heavily exposed to volatility in personal income tax collections.

Credit strengths:

-- Sound financial controls underscored by strong executive authority to reduce spending

-- Maintenance of a moderate Rainy Day Fund balance

-- Favorable funding ratios in the state's retirement systems following reforms and pension obligation bond issuance

Credit challenges:

-- Unusually high reliance on economically sensitive personal income taxes creates increased budgetary strain, reflected in large revenue shortfalls in last fiscal year and forecasted declines for the current biennium

-- Constitutional 2% "kicker" that requires refunds of personal and/or corporate income taxes if collections are 2% or greater than the budgeted amount, which adds budgetary challenges, including cash flow pressures

-- Above-average debt ratios

DETAILED CREDIT DISCUSSION

2009-2011 BIENNIUM BUDGET RESOLVED $3.8 BILLION PROJECTED BUDGET GAP; LATEST REVENUE FORECAST PROJECTS $65 MILLION ENDING FUND BALANCE

Oregon's $13 billion adopted 2009-2011 biennial budget addressed a sizeable projected $3.8 billion budget gap through a combination of reduced expenditures, new revenues, federal stimulus funds, and the state's own reserves. The legislature authorized and the voters approved an increase in both the personal income tax rate (PIT) and the corporate income tax (CIT) rates. The increase in PIT raises the top taxable income rate to 11% from the current 9% during the 2009-2011 biennium, and then the rate declines to 9.9% thereafter. The increase in CIT raises the top marginal tax rate to 7.9% from the current rate of 6.6% during the 2009-2011 biennium, and then the rate will decline to 7.6% thereafter. In addition to the new revenues, the state also approved $1.8 billion in spending reductions and the use of $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds and state reserves.

As of the March 2011 revised revenue and economic forecast, the state expects to realize $12.4 billion in general fund revenue, little changed from the December 2010 forecast but down $1.1 billion (8.7%) from the budget adopted in June 2009. The revenue decline is mainly attributable to weakness in the PIT and the CIT. In light of the revenue declines, the governor took action to rebalance the budget by making across the board General Fund reductions. Oregon is now on track to end the biennium with a small operating surplus of $65 million.

2011-2013 EXECUTIVE BUDGET INTRODUCED

The Governor introduced his balanced budget proposal to the legislature in February. The budget proposal assumes revenue growth of $1.2 billion (8% ). Expenditure growth is limited to a level below the expected revenue growth. The budget assumes an ending budget balance of $230 million. The biennium budget proposal does not rely on tax increases or use of one time resources to balance the budget.

REPLENISHMENT OF RAINY DAY FUNDS A PRIORITY

During the 2007 legislative session, Oregon established a rainy day fund (RDF) that was initially funded at $319 million from a one-time suspension of the corporate kicker law which is similar to the personal income tax kicker. In addition to retaining interest earnings, the fund will also receive biennial deposits from the General Fund ending balance, with amounts limited to the lesser of the actual General Fund ending balance for the preceding biennium or 1% of General Fund appropriations for the preceding biennium. The RDF is capped at 7.5% of General Fund revenues for a biennium. A three-fifths vote of each house of the Legislative Assembly is required to appropriate RDF moneys in the event of certain triggers. The state has also maintained additional reserves in its education stability fund (ESF), which receives 18% of net lottery revenues. The state anticipates combined reserve levels of $533 million at the end of the 2011-2013 biennium: $292 million in the ESF, $11 million in the RDF. The $533 million available reserve balance equals approximately 4% of 2009-2011 biennial revenues. Strong reserve levels are especially important given Oregon's exposure to potential fluctuations in its personal income tax collections.

ECONOMIC FORECAST INCORPORATES DEEPER ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

The state's unemployment rate of 10.6% in January 2011 remains higher than the national rate of 9.4%, as it has throughout the recession. Total non-farm employment was essentially flat in 2010, although Oregon began losing jobs in August 2008, led by declines in the construction, manufacturing, and financial sectors. Employment declines averaged 4% for 2009 versus 3% for the U.S. The state revised its economic forecast to expect a modest 1.1% employment growth of 1.1%in calendar year 2011.

STATE DEBT BURDEN REMAINS ABOVE AVERAGE

Oregon's 2010 net tax-supported debt as a percentage of personal income is 4.5%, and debt per capita is $1,859, well above Moody's 50-state medians of 2.5% and $936, respectively. A $2 billion pension bond issuance in fiscal year 2004 significantly improved Oregon's pension funding levels, which increased to over 100% funding in 2007 but also substantially increased its debt burden. The pension bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the state; they are not secured by any assets of the pension system.

The state has approximately $441 million of Oregon's Department of Veterans' Affairs Bonds, of which $260 million are variable rate with enhancements provided by standby bond purchase agreements, primarily with Dexia Credit Local. Of the $260 million, $25 million is swapped synthetically to fixed rate debt. The variable rate bonds are uninsured and there are currently no bank bonds.

The state also has approximately $1.4 billion in highway user tax revenue bonds. The revenue bonds, rated Aa1 (senior lien) and Aa2 (subordinate line), are secured by highway user tax revenues consisting of motor carrier revenues, fuel tax revenues, and Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) revenues. Of the total $1.4 billion outstanding, $155 million are variable rate supported by standby bond purchase agreements. There are no swaps on the highway revenue bonds, and the variable rate subordinate lien highway bonds are uninsured.

PENSION SYSTEMS WELL-FUNDED; MANAGEABLE OPEB LIABILITY

In 2003, the Oregon legislature adopted reforms in response to the state Public Employees' Retirement System's (PERS) growing unfunded actuarial liability and increasing charges to public employers to fund the system. The changes included lower benefits for new hires as well as reduced benefits for current employees and some existing retirees. As a result of an Oregon Supreme Court decision in 2005, many of the reforms were upheld. In April 2006, the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) approved changes to the system's valuation methodology, moving from a multi-year smoothing method to a mark-to-market valuation. These changes are expected to result in greater predictability, as well as a slight reduction in required employer contributions. Based on the 2009 valuation reports, the funded ratio of the combined state's PERS Tier 1 and Tier 2 pension programs' accrued actuarial liabilities was 88%. The state's portion of the unfunded liability is valued at $1.7 billion.

In terms of other post employment benefits (OPEB), Oregon's obligations appear manageable. State employee retiree healthcare benefits are provided through PERS or the Public Employees' Benefit Board (PEBB). As of December 31, 2009, the PERS-sponsored programs had unfunded actuarial liabilities of $78 million for the plan that offers retirees a subsidy for Medicare supplemental health insurance, and $18.1 million for a smaller subsidy for pre-Medicare age retirees. For the PEBB program, an implicit rate subsidy exists for retirees not yet eligible for Medicare, and the unfunded actuarial liability as of July 1, 2009, is estimated at $161.74 million.

Outlook

The credit outlook for the State of Oregon is stable. The state's economy has weakened in line with that of the nation. Employment is expected to recover in 2011. Oregon's unusually high dependence on personal income taxes poses downside forecast risk given the deeper-than-expected economic downturn. The constitutional 2% kicker prevents Oregon from fully capturing the revenue boost during periods of economic strength although building up the state's RDF is expected to have a positive effect on the state's long-term fiscal health. Oregon's now above average debt ratios are expected to rise slightly but remain manageable.

What could make the rating move - UP

*Effective management of voter initiatives in the context of maintaining structural budget balance.

*Maintenance of strong General Fund reserve levels to offset revenue volatility during economic downturns.

*Controlling increase in debt levels in a growing state with sizeable infrastructure needs.

*Sustained healthy job growth.

What could change the rating - DOWN

*Deterioration in the state's financial performance and reductions in reserve levels.

*Reliance on non-recurring solutions to balance budget.

*Slowing of economic recovery leading to further employment erosion and revenue weakness.

*Failure to adopt a structurally balanced plan to cover expenditures once federal fiscal stimulus monies are no longer available

The principal methodology used in this rating was Moody's State Rating Methodology published in November 2004.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

Information sources used to prepare the credit rating are the following: parties involved in the ratings, parties not involved in the ratings, and public information.

Moody's Investors Service considers the quality of information available on the credit satisfactory for the purposes of assigning a credit rating.

Moody's adopts all necessary measures so that the information it uses in assigning a credit rating is of sufficient quality and from sources Moody's considers to be reliable including, when appropriate, independent third-party sources. However, Moody's is not an auditor and cannot in every instance independently verify or validate information received in the rating process.

Please see ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on Moodys.com for the last rating action and the rating history.

The date on which some Credit Ratings were first released goes back to a time before Moody's Investors Service's Credit Ratings were fully digitized and accurate data may not be available. Consequently, Moody's Investors Service provides a date that it believes is the most reliable and accurate based on the information that is available to it. Please see the ratings disclosure page on our website www.moodys.com for further information.

Please see the Credit Policy page on Moodys.com for the methodologies used in determining ratings, further information on the meaning of each rating category and the definition of default and recovery.

Analysts

Kimberly Lyons
Analyst
Public Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service

Marcia Van Wagner
Backup Analyst
Public Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service

Contacts

Journalists: (212) 553-0376
Research Clients: (212) 553-1653


Moody's Investors Service
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New York, NY 10007
USA

MOODY'S ASSIGNS Aa1 RATING TO $43 MILLION STATE OF OREGON GENERAL OBLIGATION ALTERNATE ENERGY PROJECT BONDS
No Related Data.

 

© 2014 Moody's Corporation, Moody's Investors Service, Inc., Moody's Analytics, Inc. and/or their licensors and affiliates (collectively, "MOODY'S"). All rights reserved.

 


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