Debt Ceiling Uncertainty Puts States at Risk

Publication: The New York Times

Author: Michael Cooper


07/21/2011 - The federal debt ceiling debate is already complicating life for state and local governments.

Maryland is postponing a bond sale that had been scheduled for Friday, after the state was warned that its credit rating would probably be lowered in the event of a federal downgrade. California, which typically issues short-term bonds at this time of year, is working to arrange bank loans instead, citing the market uncertainty. And state officials across the nation are trying to figure out what will happen to the federal payments they rely on for everything from Medicaid to unemployment to highway construction if a deal is not reached to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline.

States whose economies rely on the federal government — including Maryland and Virginia, home to many federal employees and contractors — are at the greatest risk if there is no agreement and Washington has to decide which payments to make and which to skip. They were among the states warned by Moody’s Investors Service this week that their credit ratings were being jeopardized by Washington — which would make it more expensive for them to borrow for costs like construction, through no fault of their own.

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If the federal government were to stop paying some employees or contractors next month, or were to hold back Social Security checks, it could have a “profound effect on state and local tax revenues,” according to a report issued this week by the Pew Center on the States. On top of that, a delay in the payments that states and local governments rely on would pose cash-flow problems for many states. The Pew report noted that the federal government owed $10.4 billion in tuition assistance next month, when the academic year begins.

Read the full article, Debt Ceiling Uncertainty Puts States at Risk, on The New York Times' Web site. 

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