New York Gov. David Paterson again raised the spectre of a downgrade yesterday as he cajoled legislative leaders to take action to cut a $3 billion current-year budget deficit. The state faces a serious cash-flow problem in December that could affect its rating if nothing is done, he said.
“We could come into difficulty with our credit rating within the next six weeks,” Paterson said at a meeting in Albany. “We’ve got to address our issues before we start to fail to meet obligations, have a downgraded credit rating, and go to places that this state does not want to go.”
New York has $5.1 billion of obligations due in December that it will not be able to fully fund if current revenue projections continue, budget director Robert Megna said in a statement. Without action, the state will have to delay payments, he said.
The state plans to borrow from agency funds, called short-term investment pools, for cash-flow purposes, but that resource could be exhausted in December, said Division of Budget spokesman Matthew Anderson.
Last week the governor also cited threats to the ratings when he proposed $5 billion of cuts and revenue measures to close the current-year deficit and to begin to close next year’s deficit.
The Assembly and Senate began holding hearings this week on deficit-closing measures. Though lawmakers yesterday agreed that action needed to be taken, some took exception to a $480 million proposed cut to education and a $287 million cut to Medicaid.
Senate Majority Conference Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, suggested that the state could generate $500 million by refunding its $4.55 billion of bonds backed by the national tobacco settlement, but Paterson said the idea was a “non-starter” and that it wouldn’t generate that kind of savings.
Paterson has sounded the alarm over threats to the state’s ratings for much of the year, but they have remained stable.
Standard & Poor’s rates New York’s general obligation debt AA with a stable outlook and its personal income tax credit AAA.
“The reason why the rating is AA and stable is because they’ve been actively managing the budget shortfalls throughout this recessionary period,” said analyst Robin Prunty.
Fitch Ratings rates the state’s GO and PIT credit AA-minus. Moody’s Investors Service rates the state Aa3 and does not rate recent PIT issues.
Falling revenues, primarily from the personal income taxes, have created the current-year gap. The state is heavily dependent on Wall Street, from which it gets 20% of its tax revenue. Wall Street bonuses fell to $18.4 billion in 2008 from $32.9 billion in 2007, according to the state comptroller’s office.
Bonuses at financial services firms are expected to be up 35% to 40% in 2009, according to Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates Inc., a compensation consulting firm. While good news for the state, the increases are coming from a base that fell sharply last year, and compensation isn’t all in cash.
“Due to practices and mandates of regulators, more of this compensation is being deferred,” Johnson said. “So from a state tax perspective, you don’t get that tax money — not this year, but probably years in the future.”