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State’s bond rating ‘uncommonly low’ due to ‘crisis-like budget environment’

Gov. Bruce Rauner reaches out to shake hands with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, right middle, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, after delivering his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 at at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. File Photo. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Illinois may have a budget for the first time in three years, but S&P Global Ratings remains leery — putting the state still just one notch above junk status, in part because of its “persistent crisis-like budget environment.”

S&P on Friday assigned the state’s $500 million in general obligation bonds a BBB- rating while also affirming a BBB- rating on the state’s outstanding debt.

The rating agency wrote that the general debt rating “reflects our view of the state’s recent liquidity stress because of nearly depleted budget reserves and a generally weakened financial condition, lingering structural budget imbalance even after a permanent increase to the state’s individual and corporate income tax rates, and backlog of unpaid bills that remains elevated even following the recent bond refinancing of a portion of them,” credit analyst Gabriel Petek said.

The state’s credit rating is “uncommonly low among the states,” the agency wrote. But in affirming the low level investment rating, S&P also gave the rating a “stable” outlook, writing that with passage of an upcoming budget the likelihood of the state experiencing a liquidity crisis has “fallen markedly.”

The agency noted that enacting a budget last year that included a tax hike “helped shrink — though not eliminate — the state’s structural deficit.”

The agency said Illinois’ deficit, without a solution, would “represent the leading identifiable source of downward pressure on its credit rating.” And it warned that it will be hard to better the state’s credit rating due to its “poorly funded pension systems and other outsized liabilities.”