Utah keeps its stellar AAA credit rating

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo). The state capitol in Salt Lake City, Feb. 12, 2020.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Treasurer David Damschen announced Monday that S&P Global, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have reaffirmed Utah’s AAA credit rating, the highest rating a state can receive.

“In Utah, we are thorough and collaborative in our fiscal management,” Herbert said in a news release. “We have worked closely with the Legislature to adhere to the principles of fiscal discipline and budgetary restraint, making our state one of only a handful to receive a AAA rating by all three rating agencies.”

Herbert said the state has been preparing for an economic downturn since the Great Recession by building up rainy day funds and conducting stress-testing budget exercises.

The rating affirmations come at the same time as a $447.3 million general obligation bond sale was authorized by the Utah Legislature. This lets the state shift from cash-funded construction to bond financing, freeing up cash for more urgent needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as the state faces a budget shortfall.

“My team in the Office of State Treasurer and staff in the Governor’s Office of Budget and Management have worked quickly and diligently to pull together the bond transaction,” Damschen said, “which gives the Legislature nearly half a billion in essential budget flexibility during this time of health and economic crisis.”

He said Utah’s history of strong financial management combined with preparations over the past decade to weather economic storms contributed to the high rating. “Not only were we able to access the market during this volatile time, but we were able to save taxpayer dollars with record-low borrowing costs.”

Money from the sale will be used for transportation projects and state prison construction, and cash previously set aside for those projects can now be cut or used for something else.

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