CHICAGO -- Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar's announcement last week that the state will issue $185 million of general obligation certificates will trigger a review of the state's Aaa GO rating by Moody's Investors Service, state and rating agency officials said yesterday.
George Leung, a vice president and managing director of state ratings at Moody's, said a meeting with state officials is scheduled for Wednesday.
"We'll be reviewing the budget and cash flows in connection with the short-term note sale and also all the long-term ratings for the state," he explained.
He said the ratings review would be completed before the notes are sold the week of Aug. 26. Since 1944, Illinois has maintained an Aaa GO rating with Moody's. That rating currently pertains to $4.17 billion of the state's debt.
State Budget Director Joan Walters said the administration was hopeful the agency would judge the $27.5 billion fiscal 1992 budget as "a credible plan" for the state and therefore maintain the high rating. Under the budget, passed July 19 by the General Assembly and recently acted upon by the governor, the state would end fiscal 1992 on June 30 with a $200 million cash balance, compared to $100 million at the end of fiscal 1991.
But Richard Ciccarone, senior vice president and manager of fixed-income research at Kemper Capital Markets, said there are "enough reasons out there to justify a ratings downgrade."
Mr. Ciccarone pointed to a growing negative unreserved balance, as reported on a generally accepted accounting principles basis, that he said could reach $1.5 billion in fiscal 1991, and to a cash balance system that allows the state to bolster its cushion by "holding back bills." He added that the state's use of so-called lapse-period spending to delay its fiscal 1991 bill payments into fiscal 1992 was also a negative factor for the rating. The state comptroller's office estimated that lapse-period spending will exceed $800 million.
On Aug. 2, Standard & Poor's Corp. downgraded $4.2 billion of the state's GO debt to AA from AA-plus, citing "significantly weakened financial operations and position during the past two fiscal years." The agency, which on Feb. 11 had placed about $7 billion of the state's debt on CreditWatch with negative implications, accompanied its ratings downgrade with a stable long-term outlook for the state's AA rating.
The state's Aaa rating from Moody's may already have been discounted in the secondary market. Bond traders contacted at the time of the Standard & Poor's downgrade said Illinois GOs had been trading at the AA level for some time.
If a downgrade is not forthcoming from Moody's this time, Mr. Ciccarone said the release of the state's audited financial statements later this year could give the agency "another opportunity to evaluate the rating."
Illinois also has had an inactive AAA rating from Fitch Investors Service Inc.a since 1989.
Gov. Edgar announced the short-term borrowing last Friday, saying it was necessary for cash-flow purposes. He said the money would be used to help pay off a backlog of $370 million in overdue healthcare provider bills and to make a $175 million state aid payment to local schools in August instead of September.
The certificate or note issue, which will mature June 15, 1992, will be competitively bid the week of Aug. 26, with a closing scheduled for Aug. 29.
Ms. Walters said that while the administration was keeping its options open in terms of additional short-term borrowing, "we hope we won't need to do any more."