Jan 27, 2023
Chicago Mayor Touts Credit Market ‘Validation’ Ahead of Election
(Bloomberg) -- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is highlighting her administration’s record of credit rating upgrades, higher pension contributions and other financial strides made over the last four years as she seeks a second term next month.
“When we apply fiscal discipline, invest in ourselves and our people and our places and we put ourselves on stable financial footing, that’s when the magic happens,” the 60-year-old Democrat said during a speech at a City Club of Chicago event Friday. “We can afford to make those investments that are necessary to up lift our young people, solve the social ills that have plagued us for way too long and keep our economy going, but it starts with getting our fiscal house in order.”
Lightfoot, who is facing eight opponents in the Feb. 28 election, highlighted back-to-back credit upgrades last year that allowed the city to rise up from a junk rating, pre-payment into underfunded public-worker retirement plans and movement toward structural budgetary balance as accomplishments during her first term. The city has faced years of deficits and an unfunded pension liability that tops $30 billion after decades of insufficient contributions.
The mayor of the third-largest US city also said that she plans to “re-up’ conversations with state legislators and Governor J.B. Pritzker over long-term solutions to pension-funding problems. Lightfoot noted that after the state consolidated downstate and suburban police and fire pension funds in the last couple of years to boost returns, Chicago has been waiting its turn for solutions. She said her administration has a “robust Springfield agenda” — a reference to the state capital — that she’ll provide more details on around March 1, after the election.
Chicago’s severely underfunded pensions have long been a weight on the city. Late last year, the Chicago City Council approved Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget with an additional $242 million in early pension payments after the city increased its annual contributions by $1 billion over the last three years.
Other fiscal steps she touted include increasing reserves. Looking forward, she said her administration is working to advance plans for Chicago’s first casino, revenue from which will go toward the city’s fire and police pension.
“We have received validation of our hard work by the rating agencies,” Lightfoot said. “We most recently executed two bond deals in December and again last week. In both transactions, the city saw bond investors that invest only in high grade credits come and buy our bond for the first time in years. We are getting market place validation as well.”
In November, Moody’s Investors Service raised the city’s rating by one notch to Baa3, freeing Chicago from its one non-investment grade rating for the first time since 2015. Fitch Ratings boosted its rating to BBB, two steps above junk, in October.
Last week, the city sold its first social bonds and drew the “highest amount of retail” investors for its general obligation or sales-tax backed bonds in at least a decade. The city’s pricing improved 15 to 25 basis points following recent rating upgrades, according to Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Bennett.
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