CHICAGO -- Standard & Poor's Corp. yesterday assigned a negative outlook to Minnestoa's AA-plus general obligation rating, citing the state's depleted financial reserves and increased debt pressures.
Meanwhile, Fitch Investors Service yesterday affirmed Minnesota's AA-plus rating, saying that the state's credit trend is stable.
Standard & Poor's revised its outlook to negative from stable and affirmed the rating for $1.4 billion of the state's outstanding GO debt in anticipation of the sale of $140 million GO bonds on Tuesday.
The rating agency said the negative outlook "reflects the depletion of reserves, which could restrict the state's ability to maintain balanced operations and avoid short-term borrowing should economic performance fail to improve."
John Gunyou, the state's finance commissioner, called the timing of Standard & Poor's outlook revision "curious," saying the state's current financial outlook is more positive than last year.
"At this point, our econmic recovery forecasts are on track, and forecasts are on track, and our budget deficit is smaller than it had been in the last two years," Mr. Gunyou said.
A press release from Standard & Poor's adds that an anticipated $150 million GO bond issue to help Northwest Airlines build maintenance facilities in Duluth and Hibbing may add "additional pressures to the state's capital financng program." However, the agency says the issue should have a limited impact on the direct debt burden of the state.
Last December, the state agreed to issue up to $350 million of GO and lease-revenue bonds for Northwest's use. Up to $175 million of the bonds would carry the state's GO pledge. Rating agency officials have said it would mark the first time a state has given its GO pledge to benefit a major airline.
The state is delaying its plans to issue the bonds until a lawsuit filed last year by a taxpayer group is resolved. The suit challenged the constitutionality of a law allowing the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airports Commission and the state to issue bonds to help Northwest's expansion plans. The suit was dismissed by a Minnesota district court, but is under appeal.
According to Standard & Poor's, slower revenue growth and economic softness led to a $569 million budgetary imbalance for the biennium that ends June 30, 1993. The gap was addressed through tax increases, spending cuts, and depletions of the state's budgetary reserve, the agency said.
Fitch says its affirmation of Minnesota's AA-plus rating was based on several strengths, including "prudent and conservative" politicies regarding incurred debt and financial stability, according to an agency press release.
The release adds that the state's broad-based economy with "positive wealth levels" is able to support existing and planned bonded debt.
Minnesota's general obligation debt is rated Aa by Moody's Investor's Service. Mr. Gunyou said he expected Moody's to affirm the rating. Officials from Moody's did not return phone calls.
Proceeds from the $140 million of bonds, which will be sold competitively, will be used to finance capital improvements.