January 29, 2013 / 8:06 PM / 5 years ago

TEXT-Fitch rates Ky. Asset/Liability Commissional notes 'A+'

Jan 29 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'A+' rating to $153.5 million of Kentucky
Asset/Liability Commission (ALCo) funding notes, 2013 General Fund First Series

The bonds are expected to be offered through negotiation as early as Feb. 7,

Fitch also affirms Kentucky's appropriation-backed debt as follows:

--Approximately $6.4 billion in appropriation backed debt issued by the State
Property and Buildings Commission (SPBC), the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority,
the Kentucky Turnpike Authority, ALCo, and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County
Government Public Facilities Corp. at 'A+';
--SPBC Agency Fund Revenue Bonds, Project 91 at 'A';
--Agency Fund Revenue Refunding Bonds, Project 104 at 'A';
--State Property and Buildings Commission (SPBC) taxable agency fund revenue
bonds, Proj. 92 at 'A';
--Asset Liability Commission (ALCo) project notes, 2005 agency fund taxable
first series at 'A';
--SPBC taxable agency fund revenue bonds, project 97 at 'A'.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

The funding notes are special and limited obligations of ALCo, payable solely
from revenues derived under financing/lease agreements between the commission
and the commonwealth's finance and administration cabinet and teachers
retirement system (KTRS).


COMMONWEALTH APPROPRIATION OBLIGATION: Debt service derives from commonwealth
appropriations, linking the rating to the general credit quality of the
commonwealth. Kentucky's debt is primarily in the form of lease rental bonds
requiring appropriation for debt service. The commonwealth's lease financing
mechanism is well established, highlighted by automatically renewable leases and
covenants to seek appropriation for debt service.

LIMITED OPERATING FLEXIBILITY: The commonwealth's operating flexibility has been
reduced as is indicated by the depletion of reserves and a continuing reliance
on nonrecurring budget items, including issuance for operating purposes, despite
evidence of economic and revenue recovery.

HIGH LONG-TERM LIABILITIES: Commonwealth debt levels are at the higher end of
the moderate range and other long-term liabilities are significant and well
above average for a U.S. state.

ECONOMY REBOUNDING: Kentucky's economy is rebounding from the recession but
remains exposed to an outsized and generally contracting manufacturing presence.
Income levels are low.

The commonwealth primarily issues debt through lease rental bonds, requiring
appropriation. Proceeds of the bonds will be used to fund Kentucky's annual
contributions to KTRS' state medical insurance fund. This is the third such
issuance by the commonwealth since August 2010.

Kentucky's 'A+' lease rating reflects the commonwealth's limited fund balances
following depletion amidst recession-driven revenue shortfalls, continued
reliance on one-time measures in the current biennial budget, and high
liabilities, including for the poorly funded pension system.

Kentucky continues to face budget balancing challenges despite recovery in the
economy, indicating a structural problem that goes beyond the impact of cyclical
recession and recovery on its financial operations. In each of the past four
biennial budgets, beginning in fiscal 2007 and including the biennium that began
July 1, 2012, the commonwealth has relied on one-time solutions to balance its
budget, including depletion of reserves, debt restructuring, and borrowing for
operations, specifically to pay non-pension retirement benefits (OPEB), as in
the current transaction. Although the structural gap and use of one-time items
has been reduced in the current biennium, this practice continues despite
economic recovery and growing revenues.

The fiscal 2011-2012 biennial budget for the general fund appropriated funds for
fiscal 2011 at approximately fiscal 2010 levels, followed by an 11% increase in
fiscal 2012 as the benefits of the federal fiscal stimulus program rolled off
and spending shifted back to state generated resources. To balance, the budget
called for 3.5% and 4.5% budget reductions for fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012,
respectively, $226 million in fund transfers, and $300 million in contract and
operating efficiencies.

The budget included savings from debt restructuring of $203 million over the
biennium and two borrowings related to OPEB financing of retiree health
benefits. Revenue performance during the biennium was positive, with 6.5%
year-over-year growth in fiscal 2011 and 3.8% growth in fiscal 2012, higher than
forecast. Sales tax revenues grew 5.2% over the prior biennium and personal
income tax 7.1%. Coal severance taxes also showed healthy increases and exceeded

The commonwealth began to rebuild its rainy day fund at the end of the last
biennium with a deposit of approximately $122 million; however, the enacted
budget for the current biennium again draws upon the budget stabilization fund
to achieve balance, using $49 million of the balance in fiscal 2014. The budget,
which assumed modest revenue growth of 2.4% in fiscal 2013 and 2.3% in fiscal
2014, required aggressive measures to close an estimated gap of $742 million.
Priority areas such as education and Medicaid were protected from budget
reductions but most areas of the budget were reduced.

The budget authorized continued borrowing to pay a portion of retiree health
benefits, albeit in a smaller amount than in the prior biennium. Legislation
passed in 2010 phases in additional contributions by both employees and the
state and newly requires contributions from teachers.

Through the first six months of fiscal 2013 (ending June 30), the commonwealth
reports solid general fund revenue growth of 3.8% year-over-year, ahead of the
budgeted 2.4% growth. Sales and use tax revenues are essentially flat (up 0.1%)
versus fiscal 2012, while personal income tax revenues show more robust growth
of 4.9%.

Despite a decade of contraction, Kentucky continues to have an oversized
manufacturing sector relative to the national economy. This sector is recovering
since bottoming out in early 2010, with 0.6% year-over-year growth as of
December 2012. Overall, non-farm employment is up 1.5% as of December, slightly
higher than the national rate of growth of 1.4%. Kentucky's unemployment rate
remains above the 7.8% U.S. rate at 8.1% in September 2012. Kentucky's per
capita personal income for more than three decades has approximated 80% of the
U.S. average and currently ranks the commonwealth 47th among the states for this

Kentucky's liabilities are high with the combined ratio of debt and unfunded
pension liabilities representing 20.3% of 2011 personal income. This ranks it
among the highest of U.S. states rated by Fitch and is significantly higher than
the median. Net tax supported debt of approximately $8.9 billion, represents an
above-average 6.0% of 2011 personal income. The funding level for the Kentucky
Employees Retirement System (KERS) non-hazardous sector was only 27.3% as of
June 30, 2012, down from 97.3% funded as of June 30, 2003. Using Fitch's more
conservative 7% discount rate assumption, funding of the pension plan would
decline to 25.2%. Funding levels for the commonwealth's other retirement systems
are better but have deteriorated as well due to investment losses and the
failure to fully fund annually required contributions.

Some pension reforms have been enacted requiring more years of service and
higher retirement age for certain workers, with the goal of reducing the future
liabilities of the state's pension systems. The reform legislation also mandates
increased annual pension funding but allows 15 years to reach full funding of
the ARC, in the case of KERS, and slightly shorter ramp-up periods for the other
systems. As a result, the funded status of the pension system is likely to
decline significantly before it begins to improve and future pension payment
requirements will place a greater demand on budgetary resources than would have
otherwise been the case. The statutorily commissioned Kentucky Public Pensions
Taskforce (KPPT) released a set of recommendations for additional pension
reforms to the legislature in early December 2012.

Kentucky has long used state agencies for its financings which, for capital
purposes depend on biennial legislative appropriations for security, and has
well-established policies and procedures that recognize such obligations as
debt. Although payment is subject to future legislative biennial budget
appropriations, the securing financing agreement is automatically renewable.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.

In addition to the sources of information identified in the Tax-Supported Rating
Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from IHS Global

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria', dated Aug. 14, 2012.
--'U.S. State Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria', dated Aug. 14, 2012.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
U.S. State Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below