Illinois toll authority's CFO retires; deputy is elevated
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s longtime finance chief Michael Colsch has retired, handing the agency’s fiscal reins over to his deputy Cathy Williams as work continues on a $14 billion infrastructure program.
Colsch retired Feb. 28 after a long public career.
“The Illinois Tollway is certainly a better place today thanks to the expertise, counsel and dedication that Mike Colsch brought to our agency,” said the authority’s executive director, Jose Alvarez. “Since 2003, Mike successfully fought to ensure that each and every toll paid by our customers has been put to work providing top-rated customer service and a world-class highway system.”
Williams, who joined the tollway in 2011, was tapped to succeed Colsch as chief financial officer.
“With her strong financial background and extensive working knowledge of the tollway’s financial affairs, she is in a position to immediately pick up where Mike left off,” Alvarez said.
Before joining the authority, Williams was a partner at the investment firm Cityfront Capital Partners where she spent five years. Williams also spent seven years as a managing director for a JPMorgan private equity investment program and before that eight years at the former First Chicago in asset liability management.
Colsch joined the tollway as finance chief in 2003 after managing the state’s debt under what was then known as the Bureau of the Budget and is now the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
He spent more than 10 years at the state budget office, first as a division chief, then as deputy director and debt manager until late 2002 when he served as interim budget director.
He previously served as budget and debt manager at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority as it undertook a major expansion and before that held an analyst position at the Bureau of the Budget. During his tenure, he served under three Republican governors.
Colsch moved to the tollway after Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, took office. The tollway is a quasi-state agency with autonomous operations. It’s insulated from the state budget and its revenues are segregated, going only to repay debt and pay for operations, but its board is appointed by the governor and the General Assembly has the ability to legislate changes such as a board reconstitution that took place after J.B. Pritzker took office last year.
Colsch oversaw the tollway's finances as it undertook a $5.8 billion partially-bond financed congestion relief program in 2005. It is now completed.
The agency is in the ninth year of its 15-year, $14 billion Move Illinois Capital Program to upgrade and expand the system with the help of toll increases. About $10 billion is for improvements and $4 billion for expansion projects.
The original 2011 program authorized $12 billion but the authority raised it to $14 billion in 2017. The tollway has issued $3.1 billion to fund the program with an additional $2.4 billion of bonding planned through 2024.
The tollway this year is operating on a $1.5 billion budget and has about $6 billion of outstanding toll-backed bonds. The budget relies on two bond issues totaling about $500 million to pay for capital work this year. The budget includes $380 million for annual maintenance and operations on the 294-mile system.
The authority is rated AA-minus by both Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings and A1 by Moody’s Investors Service. The authority offers some of the highest rated, state-related paper although it pays a yield penalty as do most Illinois-related credits.
Moody’s hit the agency with a downgrade last year after deepening its scrutiny of revenue pledges following legal rulings in Puerto Rico's Title III case. Moody’s action on the tollway was driven by the concern that Baa3-rated Illinois, should its fiscal distress escalate to the point of default, could move to degrade the tollway’s autonomy.
The authority’s bonds are secured by net tollway revenues that primarily come from toll collections, and the authority pledges to set rates at a level sufficient to repay debt. The tollway’s debt manager is William O’Connell.