WASHINGTON -- Standard & Poor's Corp. Friday affirmed its A-minus rating on $250 million of lease revenue bonds Texas issued last year for the Superconducting Super Collider.
The move came after the House of Representatives approved another year's funding for the $10 billion project without any major last-minute fight.
The agency said the likelihood remains high that Texas will honor its commitment to appropriate payment for the bonds, despite an earlier skirmish in the House this year over whether to continue federal funding and predictions that the battle will be rejoined next year.
The federal funding, which is expected to finance up to 90% of the project, is linked indirectly to repayment of the bonds in the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission Financing Corp.'s offering documents.
"The large congressional turnover following November's elections makes it likely that the project's federal financing will continue to get close congressional scrutiny," said agency Managing Director Hyman C. Grossman.
But, he added, "if federal funding is discontinued, the state would receive all existing assets and structures, which have valuable research potential. S&P believes that under these circumstances, the state is likely to provide the necessary funding for bondholder payment."
The agency also confirmed its AA rating on $250 million of general obligation bonds the state issued for the giant atom smasher, which is not tied to the federal funding. The state is expected to refund those bonds for a debt service savings this fall.
The ratings agency's actions came only hours after the House Thursday evening approved by 245 to 143 the final version of an appropriations bill containing $517 million of collider funding for fiscal 1993, beginning Oct. 1. That vote reversed the House's controversial 232-to-181 vote in June to eliminate all but shut-down funding for the massive project.
The reversal had been predicted after House negotiators agreed with their Senate counterparts in negotiations over the appropriations bill Tuesday to restore the collider funding at a level close to that approved by the Senate.
Collider opponents said at that time that they would not continue to press their case this year, but will wait until next year when a likely reshuffling of the House membership coming out of the elections will work in their favor.
Opponents nevertheless took the opportunity before the latest House vote to complain that the negotiators appointed by the House Appropriations Committee "caved in" with no apparent fight to the Senate's demands.
"Let us be honest about it," said Rep. Dennis Eckart, D-Ohio, who led the charge against the collider in June. "The fix was in. When the conferees were appointed, not a single conferee stood for the position of the House."
He called on other House members to at least register a "protest" vote against the conferees' "business as usual" of continuing pet spending projects despite their merit or cost.