Luzerne County, Pa., is looking for a lender after it got judicial signoff on $20 million in emergency borrowing to avoid a shutdown.
"I think that they'll find a lender. They may have to pay a little more than they planned," said Alan Schankel, a managing director at Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia.
County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Burke on Monday approved the County Council's request to borrow the $20 million to cover the lack of reimbursements triggered by the state budget impasse. Pennsylvania's stalemate is in its sixth month.
County officials expect the borrowing to cover payroll, a $7.6 million debt repayment due Dec. 15, and a variety of unpaid bills.
"If [the county]is not authorized to borrow the necessary funds to cover the ongoing outstanding debt, it will be necessary to severely curtail county services, which will adversely impact the public health, safety and general welfare," county solicitor David Pedri said in a court filing that requested a 10-year loan.
Public Financial Management Inc. backed off from a loan package, according to county officials, after Standard & Poor's downgraded the county's general obligation bonds two notches to junk-level BB-plus from BBB and placed it on credit watch with negative implications after the County Council initially rejected the emergency borrowing in early November.
S&P cited a "worsening view of management and its political gridlock that we believe has led to uneven cash management."
The County Council's authorization came on a 6-5 vote two weeks after it rejected an earlier motion for the emergency loan. Amid the chaos, county Manager Robert Lawton announced his resignation, effective Dec. 31.
"It was never regarded as a well-run county," said Schankel.
"It's an old coal country kind of location, but some counties there are run better than others," Schankel said. "Lehigh and Northampton are in pretty good shape. Luzerne and Lackawanna are struggling."
Luzerne County and Lackawanna County are neighbors. Luzerne County has about 320,000 residents. Its seat is Wilkes-Barre.
In Lackawanna, county seat Scranton's school district faces a hole that could reach $31 million by the end of the year. It owes roughly that much on two tax revenue anticipation notes, including one for $14.3million last month to make payroll.
District officials there are awaiting a decision from a Court of Common Pleas judiciary panel on their request for emergency general obligation borrowing, also to avoid a shutdown. Fiscal 2016 began July 1.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and leaders of the Republican-dominated legislature last month announced a broad outline of a roughly $30 billion budget agreement that included a commitment from lawmakers for an additional $350 million in basic education funding.
Other factors at play include a proposal to boost the sales tax to 7.25% from 6%, the shifting of $600 million in gambling revenue to the general fund to offset pension-obligation costs, and at least partial privatization of the state-run liquor stores.
Few details have emerged since the parties announced their broad outline.
"We need a budget soon," Wolf told reporters Wednesday at a Harrisburg press conference. "I'm not putting an artificial date out there."
Wolf, asked Wednesday why the commonwealth couldn't release emergency funds for school districts, said Pennsylvania's constitution requires a signed budget for all items except emergency services such as law enforcement.
"We're doing our best to interpret the constitution," he said.