Credit Rating Agency Says Rauner's Budget Will Be Difficult To Enact

Feb 24, 2015

Credit flickr/dborman

A major credit rating agency has come out with a blunt assessment of Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget for Illinois.

The budget Rauner presented last week calls for massive cuts in state spending -- without any increase in taxes.

Moody's Investor Service dismisses the chance that parts, let alone all, of the plan will ever become a reality.

"I think that's true with many budgets ... you know, an executive branch - whether it's the President of the U.S. or the governor - will put something out there," Moody's credit officer Ted Hampton said. "And it's really more of an opening gambit. And I think that's what we're seeing here."

Moody's gives two reasons for its skepticism of Rauner's plan: politics, and legal questions.

On the political side, Moody's notes Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. And they won't like those deep cuts.

As for the legal questions, Moody's says Rauner's plan to change state pensions would surely be the subject of a lawsuit -- just like a different pension overhaul passed in 2013, which gets its date before Illinois' high court next month.

While Hampton says it's interesting that Rauner chose to include no new revenue in his initial plan, he also says it's worth noting that Rauner, a Republican, did previous express a willingness to broadening Illinois' tax base, through adding a sales tax to services.

Moody's also says that to the extent Illinois does enact Rauner's budget proposal, "the funding reductions would shift fiscal pressure from the state to local units of government, public universities, healthcare providers and other entities that rely on state funding."

The statement Moody's puts out Tuesday doesn't affect the state's credit rating, but it's a telling sign of what analysts are watching for; Illinois already has the lowest rating in the country -- mostly because of the state's approximately $111 billion unfunded pension liability.

Rauner's budget puts Illinois' spending gap at $6.7 billion; Moody's questions whether Rauner will be able to achieve the $2.9 billion in savings he wants through benefit cuts, via reductions to employees' future pension benefits, as well as lowering the state's contribution to workers' health care coverage.