The city of Jacksonville is about to enjoy the benefits of a credit rating boost. Moody’s Investors Service moved the Florida city’s credit rating to Aa2 from Aa3, citing pension reform among the main reasons for the upgrade. The credit rating increase will allow the state to borrow funds at a lower interest rate and invest in more infrastructure and public services.
Five years ago, the Jacksonville City Council approved a pension reform package while enacting innovative changes, reducing debt by more than $585 million and adding over $155 million to pension reserves. A key element of the pension reform that led to reduced debt was closing the city’s three pension plans to new public employees in 2017. Since that change was put in place, over $715 million has been used to grow Jacksonville’s economy and invest in public services for its population. In addition, credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s, assign “grades” to governments’ ability and willingness to service their bond obligations, taking into consideration the jurisdiction’s economic situation and fiscal management. Since the pension reform reduced budgetary pressure, it improved the chances of the city getting a credit upgrade.
New Jersey has amassed a huge, and possibly dangerous, level of debt, according to a new report that reviews the financial health of state governments across the country.
Each Garden State taxpayer owes tens of thousands of dollars and the state is a tax “sinkhole,” according to the nonprofit organization Truth in Accounting (TIA), because state lawmakers of both parties have overspent and used accounting “gimmicks” for decades. The organization defines “sinkholes” as states that lack the necessary funds to pay their bills.
The S&P report also gives New Jersey a low grade on debt practices.
“On our scale of ‘1.0’ to ‘4.0’, where ‘1.0’ is the strongest score and ‘4.0’ the weakest, we have assigned a composite score of ‘3.7’ to New Jersey’s debt and liability profile,” according to S&P.
Moody’s, in its July 14 report, gave New Jersey an A3 rating on its general obligation (GO) bonds, a low rating. But it praised recent efforts by Murphy to solve the problems of long-term debt.
Fitch Ratings, in its April 13 report, gives New Jersey an A- grade. It said its rating reflects New Jersey’s “adequate financial resilience.” But it also said that its condition isn’t as good as that of most states, and stirs up some troublesome ghosts.
Clearly, we need to do everything we can to cut the cost of our annual pension payments at both the state and local levels in order to continue to guarantee the retirement payments our retirees have earned and to reduce the unfunded liability that is such a burden to taxpayers.
That is why we have developed legislation to enable our state and local pension systems to add revenue-generating assets like water and sewage treatment systems, High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, parking facilities and real estate to provide new, diversified sources of revenue for their investment portfolios.