Illinois Borrows $550M for Building Despite Budget Mess

Illinois borrowed $550 million Thursday for construction projects, taking advantage of historically low interest rates as the state approaches one full year with a budget.

📅   Fri June 17, 2016 - Midwest Edition


Illinois borrowed $550 million Thursday for construction projects, taking advantage of historically low interest rates as the state approaches one full year with a budget.
Illinois borrowed $550 million Thursday for construction projects, taking advantage of historically low interest rates as the state approaches one full year with a budget.

(AP) — Illinois borrowed $550 million Thursday for construction projects, taking advantage of historically low interest rates as the state approaches one full year with a budget.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's office announced the bond sale to Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a bidding process that offered Illinois a 3.74 percent interest rate—the lowest in Illinois history for similarly situated general obligation bonds, a spokeswoman said.

A bond expert noted the entire market is operating amid all-time low interest rates and Illinois could have done better were it in better fiscal shape.

What's worse, much of the loan—$330 million earmarked for mass transit improvements, $200 million for road construction, and $20 million for other brick-and-mortar projects—can't be spent without legislative authorization. The Republican governor and Democrats who hold majorities in both houses of the General Assembly haven't agreed on an overall spending plan for a year.

The state has overdue bills of more than $7 billion and climbing, as well as a multibillion-dollar deficit worsened by court-ordered and other spending that exceeds revenue. Rauner wants a budget deal to include business-friendly laws and political reform. Democrats say those can wait until after both sides agree to spending cuts and a tax increase to handle the financial hole.

Rauner's transportation secretary warned last week that without legislation to approve at least stopgap funding, even construction jobs that are now underway will be shut down July 1.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly pointed out that the 3.74 percent interest rate outdid the 4 percent availed in January on a $480 million sale.

Within the last week, two major credit-rating houses dinged Illinois' worst-in-the-nation rating even further. Moody's Investors Service downgraded Illinois to two levels above "junk" status