New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, who has prided himself on making fiscal stability a cornerstone of his two-year-old administration, said he might consider risking the city's rating to accomplish some of the tasks he set out to do in January 1990.
When asked at a yearend press conference last week about whether he would risk the city's bond rating to get $1 billion of revenues from the Municipal Assistance Corp. or elsewhere to maintain city services, Mr. Dinkins said, "It is a good and fair question, and it is something we very, very carefully, and delicately handle."
"It is conceivable that one could come to a point wherein the balance and the tradeoffs suggest that you may have to pay a price," he said, referring to a downgrade. But he added that "we are going to do everything we can to maintain our rating. It is important to maintain it, but you can't consider it just in a vacuum."
He noted that the credit rating system "is not an exact science and it is highly subjective."
Moody's Investors Service rates about $15 billion of outstanding city general obligation bonds Baal, while Standard & Poor's Corp. rates the GOs A-minus. The Dinkins administration has already felt the sting of a downgrade when Moody's lowered its rating last year to Baa1, from A.
When a reporter suggested the mayor has made maintaining the city's credit rating a primary goal of his administration, Mr. Dinkins replied that he had made "fiscal stability" his primary goal.
"I never quite said 'maintain,'" he said, but he added that he would work to maintain the ratings.
"I obviously don't want to flirt with a downgrade, because money costs more and we've got to borrow a lot," he said. "One of the big concerns is to carefully control capital expenditures because so much of our expense money is in debt service."
As for 1991, the city has fared far better than it did in 1990 in terms of its bonding program. For one, the rates it pays to borrow are lower. In December of last year, the city saw a 8.60% yield on its long-term bond sale, while last week the maximum yield on a $985 million offering was 7.75%.
Mr. Dinkins attributed part of this success to the work of deputy staff members in his administration and Sally Hernandez-Pinero, deputy mayor for economic development and finance. He also said "some of it is confidence in the fashion we have met fiscal problems."
"This is perhaps better appreciated when one looks at the difficulties in other jurisdictions," he said, adding that states such as New Jersey, Connecticut, and California are also suffering. "Sometimes we are a bit more hard on ourselves than we ought to be."
Other areas of finance in which the Dinkins administration and city Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman have succeeded included getting Albany to allow the city to sell variable-rate and zero coupon bonds.
The city used zero coupon bonds for the first time in August. Last week, it sold about $200 million of variable-rate bonds for the first time under the legislation passed last summer. In February of this year, it tapped the variable-rate market for the first time with a $50 million deal under temporary authorization from lawmakers in Albany.
Another innovative financing was a $1.3 billion refunding of credit-enhanced bonds to free up capacity for future deals and lower borrowing costs.
But while the city, which expects to sell just under $4 billion of GO bonds annually over the next decade, has had some notable successes in the municipal market, it has also been subject to intense criticism for other bonding proposals.
Refundings that stretch debt payments out, bonding for interest payments, the MAC refinancing, and bonding for projects not normally financed with bond proceeds, such as painting bridges, have been harshly criticized by the state and city comptroller, as well as the Financial Control Board.
The fiscal monitors have warned the city that its capital program is large and costly, and that it will eat up city revenues. They have also said the city should not use bonding gimmicks in the program.
Mayor Dinkins said his administration has worked to bring the capital program under control.