CHICAGO — The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved the sale of up $750 million of new-money and refunding debt in the city’s first big bond issues proposed by new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also submitted an ordinance seeking to rescind the city’s head tax.
The bond ordinances authorize the issuance of up to $500 million of new-money general obligation bonds and up to $250 million of sales tax refunding bonds. The sales tax issue is slated to price in the last week of October and the GO issue during the week Nov. 14, officials said.
The council’s Finance Committee previously endorsed the financings that were helped along the approval process by the city chief financial officer Lois Scott’s heavy use of minority- and women-owned and local firms in top positions on the finance teams.
Officials picked Loop Capital Markets LLC to serve as senior manager on the sales tax issue. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Cabrera Capital Markets LLC are co-seniors and another five firms round out the team. Austin Meade is financial advisor, Peck Shaffer & Williams LLP and Golden & Associates are bond counsel, and Ungaretti & Harris LLP and Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP are underwriters’ counsel.
BMO Capital Markets is senior manager on the GO sale. Mesirow Financial Inc. and Estrada Hinojosa & Co. are co-senior managers. Another seven firms rounding out the team. A.C. Advisory Inc. is financial advisor. Chapman and Cutler LLP and Cotillas & Associates are bond counsel. Duane Morris LLP and Hardwick Law Firm are underwriters’ counsel.
The firms were picked from pools established with a recent request for qualifications process. Scott, a former public finance banker and financial advisor, like her predecessors is expected to stick with negotiated sales in part to ensure the city meets its minority participation goals.
A series of Chicago finance chiefs has long said they also prefer negotiated sales as a means to reward firms that provide strong coverage of city credits and submit innovative financing ideas. Sources said BMO has stepped up to provide affordable liquidity facilities and Loop offered up the sales tax refunding idea.
The GOs would finance capital projects, equipment, and retroactive payments related to salaries for firefighters. The firefighter payments stem from a union contract settlement entered into by Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard Daley, who did not seek re-election.
“We are taking advantage of current interest rates, which are at or near the lowest rates ever recorded. This market provides an excellent opportunity to lock in low borrowing rates, saving our taxpayers going forward,” Scott said in a recent release.
The deals will price after the city’s release of a 2012 budget next week and a first-ever investor conference. Emanuel’s finance team is grappling with a $635.7 million shortfall in the next budget. Economic pressures and the use of reserve and other one-shots last year drove a round of downgrades of nearly $7 billion of GOs.
The city paid a premium to borrow last year and early this year due to both its own negative headlines and the so-called Illinois effect that tacks on a penalty for state-based issuers ranging from 20 basis points to 100 — depending on an issuer’s timing and credit — because of the state’s budget and liquidity woes.
Fitch Ratings last year dropped Chicago’s GOs one notch to AA-minus and Standard & Poor’s dropped them to A-plus. Moody’s Investors Service in August lowered them to Aa3. All three agencies have stable outlooks.
Emanuel has vowed to avoid one-time revenue gimmicks and not to raise major taxes or cut the police force to deal with the deficit.
In an attempt to improve investor relations, the city will host a conference on Oct. 20 during which Emanuel, Scott, and the city’s sister agencies, including the school district, the Chicago Park District, and Chicago Transit Authority will update bond buyers on their fiscal plans.
In a move that will result in the loss of some revenue, Emanuel on Wednesday asked the council to approve an incremental roll back of the $4-per-employee head tax Chicago has long imposed on businesses with more than 50 employees.
The city would cut the tax by half next July and then completely eliminate it by 2014. The tax currently generates about $20 million annually. The mayor said the lost revenue would be made up for through other efficiencies.
Companies have long decried the tax as a detriment to doing business in the Windy City and Emanuel pledged during the campaign to incrementally do away with it.
“Today we took a critical step in helping attract businesses to our city and enabling those businesses to create more jobs for Chicagoans,” the mayor said in a statement.
About 2,700 Chicago companies pay the tax.