CHICAGO, March 4 Chicago's massive and growing
unfunded public pension liability remains a threat to the city's
fiscal solvency, according to Moody's Investors Service, which
cut the city's general obligation and sales tax revenue bond
ratings one notch to Baa1 from A3 on Tuesday.
The rating downgrades, which affect $8.3 billion of debt,
marked the second for the city by Moody's in less than eight
months. Last July, the ratings agency dropped Chicago's GO and
sales tax revenue ratings three notches to A3 from Aa3, also
citing pension woes and related budget pressures.
The city, which is facing a $600 million state-mandated jump
in payments to two of its four retirement systems next year, has
been looking to the Illinois Legislature to enact cost-savings
pension reforms or to curtail the looming payment.
But Moody's noted that any cost savings "will not alleviate
the need for substantial new revenue and fiscal adjustments in
order to meet the city's long-deferred pension funding needs."
The ratings agency said the city's cumulative underfunding
of its pensions on an actuarial basis topped $7 billion from
fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2014.
There is also the hurdle of litigation over reforms, which
Moody's said would be "near certain" to happen. Illinois, which
passed comprehensive changes to its own pension systems in
December, faces four lawsuits challenging the reform law on
state constitutional grounds.
Moody's said Chicago could be hit with another downgrade if
Illinois' reforms are ruled to be unconstitutional and if the
city continues to be unwilling "to raise tax revenue in amounts
sufficient to fund annual pension contributions in line with
Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned in his budget speech in October
that without some relief from the state the city faces doubling
its property tax or eliminating vital services. Chicago Chief
Financial Officer Lois Scott echoed that warning in the wake of
"While we disagree with the action taken today by Moody's,
we do agree that the city's pension challenges will have a
direct impact on its long-term financial stability without
reform," she said.
Chicago has planned a $405 million GO bond sale for next week
through Wells Fargo Securities.
Moody's also downgraded the city's water and sewer senior
lien revenue bond ratings to A2 from A1, and water and sewer
second lien revenue bond ratings to A3 from A2, affecting $3.3
billion of debt.
The outlook on the lowered ratings is negative, Moody's
"The negative outlook reflects our expectation that, absent
a commitment to significantly increase revenue and/or materially
restructure accrued pension liabilities to reduce costs, the
city's credit quality will likely weaken," Moody's said in a