WASHINGTON - Standard & Poor's Corp. affirmed the ratings on California's $2.8 billion of lease securities late Tuesday, citing the state's extraordinary effort to make timely payment on most of the securities earlier this month despite its budget impasse.
"S&P concluded that default risks are adequately reflected in the current ratings," which underwent a series of downgrades earlier this year, the rating agency said. Its action leaves 16 of 30 lease issues just above junk bond levels at BBB-plus, with the balance retaining their A-minus ratings. Most of the issues are for universities, community colleges, and prison facilities.
The lease issues had been placed on CreditWatch with negative implications Aug. 25, when a two-month-long 1993 budget standoff between Gov. Pete Wilson and the state Legislature had threatened to prevent Sept. 1 payments due on about $2 billion of the securities.
The rating agency said yesterday that future state lease appropriate probably will not be interrupted by such budgetary debates. A new legal interpretation secured by Controller Gray Davis, the agency explained, permits him to make most of the lease payments in the absence of a budget.
That legal interpretation provided the controller with continuous appropriation authority to pay the state's Public Works Board bonds, which constitute the vast majority of California's lease obligations, upon certification by the state Department of Finance that a budget was not in place. Most of the board's bonds have payments due in August, September, and October, near the July 1 beginning of the budget year.
Other California lease obligations "are structured to mitigate the effects of budget delays, even when protracted" as they were this year. Standard & Poor's said. The remaining obligations either have lease payment due dates later in the fiscal year, or carry sufficient reserves to cover missed payments, the agency said.
Moody's Investors Service, which also issued a warning about the threat to California's lease bonds during the budget crisis, so far has not taken any ratings action on those bonds.
George Leung, the agency's managing director for state ratings, said Moody's will announce any change in its lease ratings for California when the agency reevaluates the state's general credit rating in advance of its $5 billion revenue anticipation note sale in the next couple of weeks.