Double helping of RI coverage in Bond Buyer, on Chafee, CFAugust 28th, 2012 at 10:44 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Bond Buyer reporter Paul Burton has been keeping an eye on Rhode Island and its myriad financial problems, and over the past week he weighed in with not one but two lengthy stories about the state.
The first article, published Thursday, is “Under Chafee, Rhode Islanders Tackle Fiscal Woes,” and it focuses on the new pension law and efforts to stabilize distressed municipalities like Providence, Central Falls and Woonsocket. Burton interviewed Chafee, who called the various problems “icebergs,” and also spoke with investors:
“Rhode Island, in a way, is the poster child for trying to resolve distress, whether it involves getting a community out of bankruptcy or pooling resources to save money,” said Natalie Cohen, managing director and head of municipal research for Wells Fargo Securities in New York. …
“Because of the weaker communities, investors are staying away from even the stronger credits,” said [William Fazioli, a senior management consultant in the Providence office of Philadelphia consulting firm PFM Group Inc. and] former East Providence city manager. “The interest rate is higher, even for the more highly rated communities.”
“There is still a great deal of credit stress,” said Naomi Richman, a managing director at Moody’s, which last December issued a special report on municipal struggles in Rhode Island. “Most of the factors that were discussed in December are still evident to a certain degree.” …
Analysts and government observers alike say few governors if any have spent as many hours [as Chafee] on municipal matters.
“He seems to be paying attention to his knitting, that’s for sure,” said Alan Schankel, a managing director at Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia. “Rhode Island, of course, has some economic issues. But everyone there seems to be pulling the oars in the same direction.”
An article Monday – “Central Falls, R.I. Could Exit Bankruptcy Next Week” – is a straightforward examination of how Rhode Island’s smallest city managed to avoid the sort of grinding slog through bankruptcy reorganization experienced by Vallejo, Calif.:
“One of the reasons why we’re so close to exiting bankruptcy is the extra attention we’ve gotten from the leadership. They profoundly understood the problems that a city faces. Both of them understood the goals and never wavered from the problem. There was no ego, no attitude,” [Central Falls attorney Ted] Orson said, naming Gallogly and Chafee. …
Moody’s analyst Vito Galluccio warned that Rhode Island municipalities still face serious challenges. “Although there has been some stabilization and helpful intervention from the state, we still expect some challenges for cities and towns,” he said, citing a slow recovery, stagnant tax bases, property tax cap limits and a high unemployment rate. “They’ve been proactive, but there are still a lot of risks and we will continue to monitor them.”
Orson called the Central Falls case a game-changer. “It changes the communication that cities have with their stakeholders. Before Central Falls, when cities negotiated with stakeholders, there was a strong feeling that cities did it without an ‘or else’. Central Falls has made it very clear, at least in Rhode Island, that there is an ‘or else,” he said. …
“What Ted [Orson] did in Central Falls is no different than how a professional services firm runs an engagement. Central Falls is doing it differently than the folks in Jefferson County, [Ala.,] and Vallejo, [Calif.,] who just threw up their hands and said, ‘We’re bankrupt,’ ” said [Gary Lewis, a private-sector financial consultant in Scranton, Pa.], who has been trying to convince officials in distressed Scranton to seriously consider filing for bankruptcy.
The hearings on Central Falls’ bankruptcy case are scheduled for next Thursday and Friday.