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  #551  
Old 06-26-2018, 11:31 AM
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FLORIDA

https://www.watchdog.org/florida/flo...456e41f6c.html

Quote:
Florida one of 14 states to secure Aaa bond rating
Spoiler:
Citing "sustained" improvement in the state's economy and a "proven track record of rebounding from severe weather events.," Moody's Investors Service upgraded Florida’s general obligation (GO) rating to Aaa from Aa1, its highest credit ranking,

“This is a clear indicator of the strength of Florida’s economy and will save taxpayers money in future state interest payments,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday, wasting little time in incorporating the state’s upgraded bond rating into his U.S. Senate campaign against three-time incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson.

According to Moody’s, the state's 2017 Gross Domestic Product grew by 2.2 percent, topping $967.3 billion, the fourth highest amongst states behind California, Texas and New York. The state's per capita income level was 93 percent of the national rate in 2017.

Florida’s state finances have been "characterized by healthy reserves and historically strong governance practices and policies that are expected to continue,” Moody maintains, noting the state's low state debt and pension ratios, job growth and positive long-term prospects, despite its aging population.

The state’s general fund reserves will hold about $2.5 billion in Unallocated General Revenue, or about 8.7 percent of general revenues, on June 30, the last day of fiscal year 2018.

Florida’s $88.7 billion 2019 general fund budget transfers $50.3 million into the Budget Stabilization Fund and earmarks $67.7 million for BSF transfer in Fiscal Year 2020. It will enter the new fiscal year with a $1.42 billion balance.

Unallocated General Revenue, the BSF, and the $766 million Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund are the three primary components of the state’s reserve funds. Collectively, they set aside more than $5 billion in reserve capacity.

Florida’s pension liability of $16.5 billion, according to Moody’s, is 35 percent of state revenues, “which compares well to the 50-state median of 82 percent.”

Moody’s specifically applauds Citizens Property Insurance Corporation’s performance in providing “strong claims-paying resources and reduced exposure to future liabilities” even after Hurricane Irma caused $10 billion in estimated damage.

“Over the past decade, the state-run property insurance company has reduced their insurance-in-force exposure by two-thirds while both the property and reinsurance entities have increased their claims-paying resources,” Moody’s states. “These entities still represent a risk of unanticipated state-related bond issuance that is unique among Aaa rated states, however.”

Citizens "depopulation" program, which allows private companies to draw customers away from Citizens with comparable rates, have reduced its policy count from nearly 1.5 million in 2012 to approximately 443,000 as of May 2018.

Florida joins 14 other states with a Aaa rating. The agency also upgraded Florida's Department of Management Services facilities pool revenue bonds and certificates of participation to Aa1 from Aa2; the Department of Children and Families certificates of participation to Aa2 from Aa3; State Board of Education's Lottery $18.7 billion in revenue bonds to Aa3 from A1.

Florida's stable outlook “reflects our expectation that sound fiscal management practices will continue through future economic cycles and administrations, including the state's continued willingness to raise revenues and cut spending to address budget imbalances and maintain strong reserve levels, offsetting an economically-sensitive revenue structure reliant mainly on sales taxes,” Moody’s concludes.

Scott said the upgrades validate his economic policies and stewardship.

“When I became governor in 2011, Florida’s economy was in terrible shape,” he said. “By December 2010, state debt and unemployment had skyrocketed, taxes had been needlessly hiked by more than $2 billion and frivolous spending was commonplace – all costing Florida families more than 800,000 jobs.”

According to Scott’s "The Florida Turnaround Story," 1.54 million jobs have been created in Florida since 2010, unemployment is down to 3.8 percent from 11.2 percent in 2010.

Scott said he has slashed $10 billion in taxes in 100 separate tax cuts since 2010 and paid down state debt by $9 billion.

“Since day one,” he said Thursday, “we’ve worked nonstop to reverse this course, and today’s rating from Moody’s demonstrates the success of Florida’s economic turnaround.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, seeking re-election in November, said the state’s “sound fiscal policy and strong leadership” the past seven years has “provided a platform for growth and continuous improvement in Florida’s economy.”

'While (Thursday’s) announcement of the upgraded GO rating is great news for Floridians, we must continue doing everything we can to reinforce Florida’s strong economic security,” Patronis concluded.

Not everyone agrees that Florida’s economic policies and fiscal management are worthy of top ratings.

In fact, according to Truth in Accounting (TIA), a Chicago-based fiscal number-cruncher, Florida deserves no more than a ‘C’ in its annual state financial rankings because at the end of fiscal year 2017, it owed $11.6 billion more in debt than it had money to pay for it.

According to TIA, on July 1, 2017, Florida’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) indicated the state had $58.6 billion available in assets to pay $70.1 billion in spending, making it a “Sinkhole State without enough assets to cover its debt.”

“Most of the debt comes from pension funding, or a lack thereof,” TIA claims. Of $60.8 billion in retirement benefits promised, the state has not funded $10.9 billion of pension benefits and $9.3 billion of retiree health care benefits.


“As a result of this and other deferrals,” TIA says, “the state's overall net position is inflated by $4.3 billion.”

TIA maintains the “state continues to hide $5.9 billion of its retiree health care debt,” although changes beginning in the 2018 fiscal year “will require states to report this debt on the balance sheet” in the future.

“Florida’s elected officials have made repeated financial decisions that have left the state with a debt burden of $11.6 billion, according to the analysis. That burden equates to $1,800 for every state taxpayer,” TIA writes.
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  #552  
Old 06-29-2018, 03:11 PM
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PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS

http://www.governing.com/week-in-fin...m_medium=email

Quote:
The Week in Public Finance: Will Weaker Unions Mean More Money for States?
The Supreme Court dealt a blow to public-sector unions this week. Whether it'll save governments labor costs is debatable.

Spoiler:
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a potentially crippling blow this week to public-sector labor unions when it eliminated the requirement for non-union employees to pay “agency fees” to contribute to the cost of collective bargaining and related activities.

The decision is expected to cause a drop in union membership, which has fallen in nearly every state over the past decade, and a subsequent decline in unions' revenue and power. A big question for governments is whether a weakening of labor unions will translate to lower labor costs in the 22 states that have not already adopted right-to-work laws, which let workers opt out of union fees.

Two key areas to watch, says Moody’s Investors Service Vice President Nick Samuels, are wage and benefits negotiations in the coming years. But any fiscal impact, he cautions, “is likely to happen over time.”

RELATED
Do Weak Labor Laws Actually Spur More Teacher Strikes? Unions Widen Who They're Fighting For For State Budgets, What a Difference 6 Months Make Supreme Court Deals Major Setback to Public Unions
That’s not necessarily so, says Fitch Ratings analyst Laura Porter. Teacher strikes across several right-to-work states this past spring, she says, indicate that weak labor laws don’t necessarily halt labor movements, and even without pressure from unions, workers have the power to demand better wages and benefits. “It illustrates that once you’re in that situation [where unions are comparatively weak], you can’t do whatever you want,” she says. “There are practical limits -- market pressures to be competitive are still at work."

In general, the financial impact of right-to-work laws is unclear. Certainly, where they exist, union membership tends to be lower. In Michigan, for example, 14.4 percent of the workforce belonged to a union in 2016 -- down from about 20 percent at the start of the decade, before the state passed a right-to-work law in 2013.

But a look at state spending trends in key labor areas shows that states with weaker unions aren’t necessarily facing less financial pressure or winning more labor concessions.

Take protecting retirement benefits, which is a big focus for unions. In the five years following the Great Recession, all but 10 states reduced pension benefits for workers. Among those that didn’t, seven were right-to-work states with supposedly weaker unions. In addition, 36 states increased the amount employees are required to contribute toward their pensions. Of the 14 that didn’t, half were right-to-work states.

A look at education funding presents similar mixed conclusions.

Many states have struggled to restore funding since the recession, and the 10 states that have cut the most in education funding over the past decade are all right-to-work states. On the other hand, of the 10 states that have increased per pupil funding the most since 2008, five are right-to-work states.

To be sure, right-to-work states tend to spend less overall on education than states with stronger unions. But a new study from Stanford University suggests that’s more due to politics than unions. That research found that the states that now have collective bargaining rights have a long history of spending more on education -- even before collective bargaining rights were instituted. The study attributes this gap not to labor unions’ influence but to the fact that states with higher teacher salaries tend to be more liberal and wealthier.
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  #553  
Old 07-11-2018, 01:51 PM
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GREEN BONDS

http://www.governing.com/topics/fina...m_medium=email

Quote:
Green Bonds Are in High Demand, But Are They a Better Deal?
Green bonds help governments finance environmental projects. It's unclear whether they help governments' finances.
Spoiler:
States and localities spend billions on infrastructure every year. Going forward, Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief, wants them to pay for it "whenever applicable" with green bonds -- an emerging way of financing projects with clear and measurable environmental benefits.

The push by Figueres is part of a new initiative called the "green bonds pledge" to ensure that all infrastructure built from now on is climate-resilient and low carbon. In her address at a Climate Bonds Initiative event in London earlier this year, Figueres promised the governments and corporations taking the pledge that "a wealth of opportunity will be unlocked."

But opportunity for who?

RELATED
The New Gold Rush for Green Bonds Why Environmental Impact Bonds Are Catching On The Construction Projects Governments Are (and Aren't) Funding
While the benefits for the environment are clear, it's much less clear that governments issuing green bonds get any better treatment than those issuing other types of debt. Even the Climate Bonds Initiative has found no conclusive evidence that green bonds are cheaper for governments to issue. So far, it seems that any evidence of a rate advantage for green bond issuers can be accredited to unrelated factors.

One of those factors is supply and demand.

Green bonds are still a tiny part of the bond market, but more and more investors are being compelled to buy them to meet environmental mandates. Green bonds are often oversubscribed, meaning there are more orders placed to buy bonds than are available to sell. The average green bond sale in the U.S. is three times oversubscribed, according to research by the Climate Bonds Initiative.

Demand certainly helped DC Water when it issued the first-ever green bond by a water utility in 2014. The utility actually upsized its issue by $50 million on the day of the sale thanks to the high demand from investors, says DC Water's former chief financial officer, Mark Kim.

Another factor driving better rates for some green bonds is the reputation and transparency of the government issuer.

DC Water, for instance, has a good reputation in the municipal market in part because it releases annual green bond reports that detail where all that money is being spent and gives updates on environmental outcomes. But that's not the case with every green bond issuance and, therefore, may affect what rate issuers get.

Overall, there is evidence that good transparency and reporting standards -- not just for green bonds -- can help government issuers get a better rate. The state of Massachusetts was one of the first major governments to embrace this idea when it began allowing investors to buy bonds directly from the state, rather than going through a broker, and launched an investor relations page where bond buyers could find all the state's financial and interim disclosures.

Colin MacNaught, who helped spearhead that effort and now runs a startup called BondLink that helps governments create investor relations sites, says any pricing bumps in the green bond market work the same way. "That granular detail is super important," he says. "Managers want to report back to their investors on the environmental impact their fund is having."

MacNaught adds that governments already do a lot of analysis on a project's expected impact before it sells the bonds. So committing to consistent impact reporting, he says, shouldn't be too much more of a stretch. "If an issuer can do that, you'll see an impact on pricing."

For these reasons, Dan Kaplan, who manages the $3.9 billion portfolio for the wastewater treatment division in King County, Wash., says green bonds are "much ado about nothing." Municipal bond sales in general are often oversubscribed, he says, so the notion that green bonds generate "extra" demand is misleading.

Kaplan agrees with MacNaught that better reporting, as well as a good credit rating, are what bring down the cost of issuance -- not some "external label" applied to projects that governments would be doing anyway. "What you're seeing is not even necessarily a bump from transparency," he says, "but the benefits of being a large, well-run and well-established organization."

http://www.governing.com/topics/tran...m_medium=email

Quote:
New Gold Rush for Green Bonds
Spoiler:
Hanging on the wall just outside Bryan Kidney’s office in Lawrence, Kan., is the framed first page of a bond offering statement. Unlike most -- or really, any -- bond statements, this one required a color printer. It could even be described as cheeky: It’s for the sale of the city’s first green bond, and every reference to “green bond” or “green project” is printed in green ink.

Kidney, the city’s finance director who shepherded the $11.3 million sale last year, says the green ink originally started out as a joke.

But then, he thought, why not? When the projects are fully implemented, Lawrence is projected to save 3,201 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) annually, which is equal to burning 3.5 million fewer pounds of coal. “I get really passionate about this stuff,” Kidney says. “I was just so excited that Lawrence stepped up to be a leader in sustainability.”

Green bonds are an emerging category of finance. Their purpose is to fund projects with clear, definable and measurable environmental benefits. As the Trump administration has walked back federal climate change policy -- most notably, backing out of the Paris Agreement -- states and localities are increasingly taking charge of their own environmental strategies. Green bonds are a natural funding tool. The vast majority of them finance water-related projects, but they also are used to finance, for instance, solar and wind power or reduced methane emissions. In Lawrence’s case, they are funding a slew of energy efficiency projects identified by a state Facility Conservation Improvement Program audit. The audit determined that certain upgrades, such as energy-efficient lighting and heating and cooling systems, would reduce the carbon footprint for this city of 96,000 and save it money in the long run.

The concept of green bonds was developed a little more than a decade ago by a London-based group called the Climate Bonds Initiative. The idea was to help the world’s growing cadre of environmentally conscious investors identify climate-friendly investments. These are folks who aren’t only interested in a financial return on their investment. They want to know that their money has helped improve the environment. “If you’re doing a bond issuance that’s electric or coal generated, those investors don’t want to be part of that transaction,” says Tim Fisher, government affairs manager for the Council of Development Finance Agencies. “They’re putting their investments into securities that have a double- or even triple-bottom line.”

For the first few years, green bonds remained something that only large global institutions like the European Investment Bank and the World Bank dabbled in. It wasn’t until 2013 that the first green bond issuance made its way to the U.S. municipal market when Massachusetts sold $100 million in bonds to finance energy efficiency projects. The following years saw other large issuers like California and New York take part. To date, those three states -- Massachusetts, California and New York -- are by far the most frequent issuers, accounting for $2 out of every $3 of green bonds issued in the past five years. More recently, a few municipalities have begun to experiment with them. But even as muni market issuance of green bonds doubled last year to $11 billion and is predicted to almost double again this year, green bonds remain largely outside of the mainstream.

So it’s saying something when a place the size of Lawrence decides to jump in. The city may very well be a bellwether of the next big leap for green bonds. That would be good news for issuers since the bonds have the potential to attract a fresh set of investors at a time when tax reform has created fewer incentives for banks and insurance companies to buy municipal bonds. Some even think that green bonds will someday be cheaper for states and localities to issue than general obligation debt. But before any of that happens, there are underlying challenges with green bonds’ authenticity that have to be resolved first.

Since they debuted a decade ago, green bonds have been issued under a variety of names -- environmental impact bonds and climate bonds being among the most prevalent. Whatever their name, one of the biggest threats to the long-term viability of these bonds is a matter of meaning. The definition of what’s “green” seems to alter slightly with each issuer.

In recent years, some groups have taken a stab at narrowing down the variables in what makes a bond green. Moody’s Investors Service has come up with a green bond assessment tool, which looks at the likelihood that the bond money will go toward environmental improvements. S&P Global Ratings has also come out with commentary. But neither provides a rating or measurement of how environmentally positive a bond might be. Elsewhere, the Climate Bonds Initiative has released a set of green bond principles for issuers while state and local governments are increasingly seeking third-party certification for their green bonds.

Compounding matters is the reality that the investment community doesn’t agree on what’s green and what isn’t. Everything is optional. Julie Egan, director of municipal research at Community Capital Management, a major green bond investor, says her standard for “green” is that it has to be an innovative project. But that doesn’t always apply when she’s shopping for some of her clients who might not feel the same way. When she looks at a water and sewer system’s green bond sale, she often sees something that looks like “the exact same thing they’ve been doing for years. Is it green? Technically, for some people, it is: They’re providing clean water,” she says. “But there’s no new technology. It just is not something that would create a great deal of excitement at our firm.”

Clearly, what some might see as environmentally forward-thinking in one place is just run-of-the-mill in another. It’s led to accusations of so-called greenwashing, a term originally coined in the 1980s and meant for corporations that present themselves as caring environmental stewards, even as they are engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices. Some governments are now being accused of slapping on a label to entice investors while doing nothing else to ensure the sustainability of a project. Case in point: In early 2015, the Climate Bonds Initiative’s CEO called out the Massachusetts State College Building Authority for its “pathetic” green bond sale that included funding a garage for 725 cars. Until these inconsistencies are resolved, the future of green bonds will remain in doubt.


For water utilities, green bonds have seemed like a natural fit. The reasons are fairly obvious. These authorities spend a lot of money on cleaning water -- a slam dunk of an environmental benefit if ever there was one. Water and sewer authorities have many ways in which they go about defining, packaging and communicating about their green bonds. That is, many green bond investors want additional reports on the environmental impact of the projects they’re financing. For issuers, that’s an additional process.

The way in which DC Water handled its green bond is an early model. DC Water, which serves the greater Washington, D.C., region, was the first water authority to issue green bonds, not just in the U.S. but globally. In July 2014, it sold $350 million in environmental impact bonds to finance a phase of its Clean Rivers Project. In part because the concept was so new -- it was only the third green bond issuance in the U.S. -- DC Water looked to Europe for best practices. Following the green bond principles outlined by the Climate Bonds Initiative, it opted to get a third-party verification and used that to both market the sale and offer a glimpse into the sort of annual impact reporting investors could expect on the bonds’ proceeds. “Quite frankly, for DC Water, we wanted to set a high bar because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from other issuers,” says Mark Kim, the authority’s former chief financial officer and now the chief operating officer of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.



DC Water issued only the third green bond in the U.S. in 2014. (David Kidd)


The approach worked. In fact, DC Water upsized its issue by $50 million on the day of the sale thanks to the high demand from investors. Since then, the authority has issued more than a half-billion dollars in green bonds. It releases annual green bond reports that detail where all that money is being spent and gives updates on environmental outcomes. Investors who bought a DC Water green bond in 2014, for example, know that their money helped finance the first phase of the DC Clean Rivers Project, which has now helped significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.

That level of reporting isn’t for everyone. And that’s another challenge for the green bond movement. The additional reporting can be expensive, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be. In some cases, as in Lawrence, the impact reporting is already part of the project: Lawrence has a sustainability coordinator whose job includes reporting on the city’s energy savings and carbon emissions.

There are other strategies. In 2016, when the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority issued $682 million in green bonds, the first of what has been a handful of green bond sales for the authority, it took steps to avoid the extra cost of ongoing environmental impact reporting. All the bonds have been refinancings for projects completed under the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. “We thought it would be just as easy to issue refundings as green bonds because investors already know what that money was spent on,” says CFO Tom Durkin. “We have limited resources and try to be frugal here. To have to produce a glossy five- or six-page report seemed like one more burden we didn’t want to put on our Treasury Department.”

Cleveland, on the other hand, made no claims about impact reporting in its 2016 green bond sale. It offered up $32 million in green bonds for stormwater projects and sewer upgrades and repair, telling investors in its offering statement that the city assumes no obligation to ensure the projects comply “with any legal or other standards or principles that relate to Green Projects.” Instead, it committed to simply reporting on the use of proceeds until the bond money was spent. Investors bought them anyway.

Many issuers remain unconvinced of the advantage of green bonds. In part that’s because there has yet to be a proven pricing benefit. The bonds don’t win better rates from investors to justify the expense of the additional reporting, but Lawrence’s Kidney and others make the case that selling green bonds opens up governments to new institutional investors. These are people who sit on the environmental or social investing side of a firm -- nowhere near the municipal investor desk. For others, like the Eastern Municipal Water District in Southern California, that’s just not enough of a selling point. “[When] we start to see a pricing bump,” says Eastern’s Deputy General Manager Debby Cherney, “then we’ll certainly take a much more serious look at coming into the market.”

Without agreed-upon standards about what a green bond is and what the reporting requirements should be, some say it’s only a matter of time before an issuer falls out of favor by either using proceeds for a project that isn’t green, or by not delivering on the environmental impact reporting that’s expected. Until that happens -- and some believe it’s inevitable -- governments are likely to keep pushing the margins. “Not all green bond issuers are alike and I’d say some have not adhered to best practices,” says Kim, the former DC Water CFO. “Some have taken liberties with their designation.” But he thinks enforcement has to come from investors. “They need to do their due diligence and hold municipal bonds accountable for what they’re selling,” he says. “And if they don’t like what they see, don’t buy it.”

Maybe. Perhaps this new breed of environmentally conscious buyers will be different, but relying on investors to police the muni bond market hasn’t worked before. It’s more likely that until there is a real cop on the beat to instill some kind of standard, the legitimacy of the green bond market as a whole will remain in question.

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  #554  
Old 07-15-2018, 08:50 AM
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NEW YORK

https://www.syracuse.com/state/index..._finances.html

Quote:
NY state comptroller issues warning about state finances

Spoiler:
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- In New York state government news, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is sounding an alarm about state finances.

DiNapoli, a Democrat, released a report last week on the state's financial plan that showed state spending is on track to outpace revenues. He warned that could put the state in financial peril if the economy turns or if the federal government cuts funding.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are planning a hearing on state efforts to boost minority- and women-owned businesses.

Here's a look at stories making news:

FINANCIAL CLOUDS LOOM: The comptroller's report looked at the current state budget approved by lawmakers this year as well as financial plans for the next few budget cycles. He determined that if current spending levels continue, the state's expenditures will outpace revenues within three years, creating a cumulative deficit of nearly $18 billion.

Lawmakers could avoid the deficit by cutting spending or raising revenue -- but DiNapoli warned that it could put the state in a tough position if the economy worsens or if the federal government cuts funding. Increasing debt is another factor, he noted, as is the decision by lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to shift significant funds to the state's budget reserves.

"The state ended the last year with the largest general fund balance in recent years, but continues to face real fiscal challenges," DiNapoli said. "New York's growing out-year gaps, shrinking debt capacity and the lingering threat of federal funding cuts cloud the horizon. Yet, there are no plans to add to our reserves, leaving the state with little cushion in the event of an economic downturn."

Lawmakers passed a nearly $170 billion state budget in March. DiNapoli's analysis shows that budget represents $6.5 billion in new spending, while revenue is projected to increase only $541 million.

Nearly $7 billion in expenditures will use one-time funding sources -- such as legal settlements or one-time grants or payments -- which could cause further headaches for lawmakers when the money runs out.

The report estimates that total tax receipts this year will hit nearly $78 billion, down 1.7 percent from the previous year.

BUSINESS DIVERSITY: The state has a number of programs intended to encourage women and minorities to start and operate businesses, and now Republican members of the state Senate want to know if they're working.

The Senate's committees on labor and economic development have scheduled a July 17 hearing in Watertown to examine the state's Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises program. Lawmakers say they'll consider changes to make the program more efficient while also enhancing the state's overall business climate.


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