The Benefits of Helping Struggling Cities

Author: Liz Farmer

Pengjie Gao

Earlier this month, New Jersey stopped Atlantic City from defaulting on its debt with a $74 million bridge loan. While there was plenty of bluster and several hollow threats from legislators that they would not step in to help the financially beleaguered gambling town, it didn’t surprise anyone when they finally did.

That’s because New Jersey has a reputation in the credit market for going to any lengths to prevent one of its municipalities from entering Chapter 9 bankruptcy. In fact, no New Jersey municipality has defaulted on debt since the Great Depression. This extra layer of protection is not only comforting to local officials in struggling cities like Camden or Trenton, it’s viewed as a big plus by those who invest in New Jersey municipal debt.

Now, preliminary research affirms the benefits of being a municipality in a more proactive state. Scholars at the University of Notre Dame [finance professor Paul Gao] and University of Illinois at Chicago have found that creditors tend to give municipalities in these states a slightly lower borrowing rate than they do municipalities in states without any kind of bankruptcy intervention program.

All other things being equal, the research found that municipalities in proactive states tend to get an initial interest rate on their bonds that is 1.4 basis points or 0.014 percentage points lower than those in states that don’t have restrictions on entering bankruptcy. It may not seem like much but the difference in borrowing rates amounts to real cash. According to the researchers, it means that total local borrowing costs in an unrestrictive state were at least $105 million higher over the 12 years studied than in a proactive state.

Read the entire article on the Governing website.