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Cook County hit by another bond rating cut

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Cook County has been hit with its second bond downgrade in a week, this one from Fitch Ratings.

   The New York financial firm lowered the Cook rating from AA to AA-, citing a variety of economic and political problems facing a government that has been a source of much controversy in recent years.

   Fitch specifically noted "declining general fund balances, growing dependence by the county's massive health system on tax subsidies and a recent pension payment deferral."

   "Further compounding diminished financial flexibility is the increased burden of a high-sales-tax environment in the current weakened economy," the Fitch report continued.

   Fitch also expressed concern about "political and financial inconsistency in both general and health system governance." And, seemingly siding with county President Todd Stroger, it said efforts to repeal more than one-quarter of the 1-percentage-point sales tax hike Mr. Stroger pushed through "would likely strain financial performance . . . (and) could cause negative rating pressure."

   Another big rater, Moody's, cut its view on Cook County debt last week, but Standard & Poor's made no change.


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