New York, June 01, 2017 -- Summary Rating Rationale
Moody's Investors Service has lowered the rating on the State of Illinois' general obligation (GO) bonds to Baa3 from Baa2, amid a prolonged political impasse that has prevented progress on a growing pension deficit and an increasing backlog of unpaid bills. With this action, ratings of several state debt types linked to the GO rating also were lowered: Build Illinois Bonds backed by sales tax revenues, to Baa3 from Baa2; the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority's McCormick Place project bonds, to Ba1 from Baa3; and the state's Civic Center program bonds, also to Ba1 from Baa3. Debt outstanding for all affected securities totals about $31.5 billion, but not all outstanding Build Illinois and Metropolitan Pier issues are rated by Moody's. The outlook applicable to the state and these associated credits remains negative.
Legislative gridlock has sidetracked efforts not only to address pension needs but also to achieve fiscal balance, allowing a backlog of bills to approach $15 billion, or about 40% of the state's operating budget. During the past year of fruitless negotiations and partisan wrangling, fundamental credit challenges have intensified enough to warrant a downgrade, regardless of whether a fiscal compromise is reached in an extended session. As the regular legislative session elapsed, political barriers to progress appeared to harden, indicating both the severity of the state's challenges and the political difficulty of advocating their solutions. Extending the impasse, and the state's embedded operating deficit of at least $5 billion (or 15% of general fund revenue) would signal further pressure on the state's credit position. But the state's credit could stabilize at the current level in the event of a political consensus that more closely aligns revenues and spending, without relying on unsustainable fiscal measures.
The downgrade to Baa3 for Illinois' GO bonds is consistent with the state's intensifying pressure from pension liabilities; by our calculation, the state's unfunded pension liability (Moody's adjusted net pension liability, or ANPL) for its five major plans in aggregate grew 25% in the year ended June 30, 2016, to $251 billion. The current rating also acknowledges intrinsic credit strengths, primarily the state's sovereign powers over revenue and spending; a diverse and strong economic base with the long-term economic potential to provide for its liabilities, and statutory protections for bondholders, primarily requirements for monthly transfers in advance of semiannual debt service payment dates. During the past decade, the state's governance framework has allowed practices that greatly offset these strengths. After eight downgrades in as many years, Illinois' rating is an outlier among states, most of which are rated at least eight notches higher. The rating on the Build Illinois sales-tax revenue bonds is capped at the GO rating because of lack of sufficient segregation of pledged revenues from the state's operating needs. The Met Pier and Civic Center program bonds are both rated a notch below the state GO bonds, because of the need for annual legislative appropriation of payments.
The state's negative outlook is consistent with its potential for additional credit weakening because of a continuing political impasse that has left Illinois increasingly vulnerable to adverse revenue trends and severely underfunded retiree benefit plans.
Factors that Could Lead to an Upgrade
Implementation of a realistic plan to provide long-term funding for pension obligations
Progress in reducing payment backlog and adoption of legal framework to prevent renewed build-up of unpaid bills
Enactment of recurring fiscal measures that support expectation of sustainable, structural balance
Factors that Could Lead to a Downgrade
Continued increases in unfunded pension liabilities and indications of unwillingness to allocate sufficient resources to retiree benefits
Persistent and growing structural imbalance that pressures liquidity and increases payment backlog or bonded debt burden
Court rulings that increase the volume of payment obligations that are legally prioritized
Difficulty managing impact of any other adverse negative events, such as an unexpected economic downturn or reduction of federal Medicaid funding
Failure to enact legislation providing for timely payment of subject-to-appropriation debt
The state's general obligation bonds are secured by its full faith and credit pledge. The state's Build Illinois Bonds are backed by a pledge of statewide sales tax. Bonds issued by the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority are secured in the first instance by tourism-related taxes collected by the authority in the Chicago area, and state sales taxes are pledged to cover any deficiencies in these collections. Payment on the Metropolitan Pier bonds is subject to annual appropriation by the state legislature.
Use of Proceeds
Illinois is the fifth most populous state in the US, with estimated 2016 population of 12.8 million. Almost three quarters of its residents live in and around Chicago (Ba1 negative), the nation's third-largest city. The state is comparatively economically diverse and wealthy, with personal income per capita equal to 105.1% of the nation's.
The principal methodology used in the general obligation rating was US States Rating Methodology published in April 2013. The additional methodology used in rating the state's appropriation bonds was Lease, Appropriation, Moral Obligation and Comparable Debt of US State and Local Governments published in July 2016. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of these methodologies.
For ratings issued on a program, series or category/class of debt, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series or category/class of debt or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.
Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.
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