Illinois, the state in the weakest fiscal position, is planning two big bond deals in the first quarter of 2012. Next week they plan to raise $800 million in general obligation bonds to finance various transportation projects, followed by another $750 million later this winter in long-term bonds to fund construction projects.
Although the state is drowning in debt, unfunded pension liabilities and unpaid bills, these debt offerings are very restrained compared to the last two years when it borrowed to make obligatory payments to its heavily underwater pension system.
The State Treasurer, Dan Rutherford, had opposed issuing debt to fund pension obligations and managed to raise the alarm among his former colleagues in the Illinois legislature about the dangers of endless borrowing. Rutherford’s actions may have reversed the momentum of Illinois’s debt issuance. He is certainly the first fiscal officer that I have heard of who threatened to call the rating agencies to slow his state’s bond issuance.
In another important step for the cash-strapped state, Illinois raised the personal income tax last year:
An income tax hike enacted in early 2011 that will raise $6.8 billion in new revenue annually helped ease the state’s cash flow and budget woes, but its unfunded pension obligations still pose a daunting challenge to efforts to stabilize its fiscal house. The state’s funded ratios were the lowest among states last year based on fiscal 2010 results.