That is all.
Archive for February, 2008
Jefferson County’s sewer-bond credit rating was cut to junk tonight, increasing the odds of the largest bankruptcy filing ever by a governmental body.
Standard & Poor’s, which ranks the creditworthiness of borrowers, downgraded the county’s sewer bonds to junk status, citing “uncertainty” that the county can make its debt payments.
The downgrade intensifies pressure on the county’s finances and makes it possible for some of the county’s creditors to demand payment on $341 million of investment contracts called swaps.
Yep, we’re screwed.
Jefferson County’s sewer debt is going down the tubes.
Jefferson County told creditors in a filing Thursday night that it could offer no assurances it can meet its sewer debt obligations.
In two securities disclosure documents, the county said:
Soaring interest rates mean it may not be able to make payments on $3.2 billion in sewer bonds.
It may not be able to post $184 million in collateral required when credit-rating agencies lowered the grade for its interest-rate swap agreements.
Its sewer debt service reserve fund was now underfunded because of the credit downgrade, and the county could not guarantee it could properly fund or insure it.
…On the sewer debt, the county must come up with the $184 million as collateral on its swap agreements by March 7 or find a firm willing to insure that the cash-strapped county will pay its obligations, the documents said.
If the county cannot post that collateral or obtain insurance, or if the credit rating for its overall sewer debt is lowered by one more notch, investment banks that partnered with the county could move toward terminating those swap agreements.
I’m off to Alabama Arise Lobby Day in Montgomery. If you’re free, join us at 9:30 at the state capitol. Spend some time learning about the issues Arise is working on and then visit with your legislator. It’s a great opportunity for some face time with the people who are elected to represent you.
UPDATE on ticket prices: $25, $23 for seniors, $13 for students.
Well, sort of. If you’re in the Birmingham area and you like musical theatre, mark your calendars for the CenterStage Productions presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which opens on Friday March 7 at the Virginia Samford Theatre (for details on show times and ticket purchases, click here).
If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s based on several Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are a good bit darker than their Disney counterparts. The first act of the show focuses on the characters seeking out and obtaining what they want most — or what they think they want — without much in the way of self-reflection or foresight. It’s light-hearted and funny, and the music is wonderful. The second act explores the consequences of getting those wishes, and they’re not pretty (the music, of course, remains wonderful). In fact, if you have young children who would be disturbed by the content, the theatre will provide on-site child care for Act Two. This isn’t Sweeney Todd; the guts and gore are more implied than overt, but we’re definitely dealing with adult issues here.
I have a very small role in this production, but I won’t let that keep me from bragging on the cast and crew. In a word, they are marvelous! These actors/singers bring their roles to life even when we’re all slumming around in sweat clothes and tennis shoes. And the people offstage are working as hard as those on it to make the whole thing look effortless. If you’re familiar with the theatre scene here, you’ll recognize quite a few names and faces.
Tickets are $25, a bargain given the quality of the production. Group rates are available, too, if you want to bring a crowd. I hope you’ll go into the woods with us. Oh, and if you’re looking for me onstage, I’m the tree.
Unleaded is averaging $3.11/gallon in the metro area, up from $2.23 a year ago and $2.91 last month. Ouch! Does anyone else think it’s past time for a good regional public transit system?
It’s definitely time to break out this image again:
If you missed the 60 Minutes segment on the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman, you can watch it here:
Dear Husband came home from a trip to the in-laws with a copy of the Savannah (TN) Courier from February 21, detailing WorldNetDaily’s settlement of a $165 million libel suit filed by Savannah businessman Clark Jones. Jones is a prominent Democrat who raised funds for Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign. WND, without, apparently, bothering to seek confirmation, published articles accusing Mr. Jones of all manner of non-existent criminal connections and then bragged that its mendacious accounts helped to defeat Gore. The Courier article is not online, but WND’s apology is:
“A lawsuit for libel, defamation, false light and conspiracy was filed by Clark Jones of Savannah, Tennessee against WorldNetDaily.com, Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson II arising out of a press release issued by WorldNetDaily.com on September 18, 2000, and articles dated September 20, October 8, November 24 and December 5, 2000, written by Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson, II, posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website.
“The original news release by WorldNetDaily.com of September 18, 2000, and the article by Hays and Thompson of September 20, 2000, contained statements attributed to named sources, which statements cast Clark Jones in a light which, if untrue, defamed him by asserting that the named persons said that he had interfered with a criminal investigation, had been a ‘subject’ of a criminal investigation, was listed on law enforcement as a ‘dope dealer,’ and implied that he had ties to others involved in alleged criminal activity. These statements were repeated in the subsequently written articles and funds solicitations posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website. Clark Jones emphatically denied the truth of these statements, denied any criminal activity and called upon the publisher and authors to retract them.
“Discovery has revealed to WorldNetDaily.com that no witness verifies the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated. Additionally, no document has been discovered that provides any verification that the statements written were true.
“Factual discovery in the litigation and response from Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies confirm Clark Jones’ assertion that his name has never been on law enforcement computers, that he has not been the subject of any criminal investigation nor has he interfered with any investigation as stated in the articles. Discovery has also revealed that the sources named in the publications have stated under oath that statements attributed to them in the articles were either not made by them, were misquoted by the authors, were misconstrued, or the statements were taken out of context.
“WorldNetDaily.com and its editors never intended any harm to Clark Jones and regret whatever harm occurred. WorldNetDaily.com has no verified information by which to question Mr. Jones’ honesty and integrity, and having met him, has no claim or reason to question his honesty and integrity. WorldNetDaily.com wishes him well.”
Well, isn’t that special? As part of the settlement agreement, the amount of the financial award was not released, but Mr. Jones says he is “very, very pleased with the end result.” I hope he took them for millions. The apology, such as it is, is no longer on the WND front page, and I had to look pretty hard to find it. When I searched the site for “Clark Jones”, I found the apology — and links to all the libelous articles, which remain on the site. A check of a few of them shows that the apology has been appended at the bottom, as inconspicuously as possible. I guess the publishers are hoping their readers won’t notice the egg all over their faces.
Remember how the Jefferson County Commission voted to allow two commissioners to give $15,000 to support a conference put on by the right-wing Eagle Forum? Yeah, me too. Despite some outcry from taxpayers, the Commission went ahead with the donation, and yesterday the Eagle Forum brought Phyllis Schlafly to town.
Schlafly, wearing her usual red power suit, spoke to about 350 people, mostly older and almost all white [I'm stunned], at the Eagle Forum of Alabama’s 27th annual leadership conference. It was a get-together paid for in part with the help of a $15,000 donation of public tax dollars from the Republican-dominated Jefferson County Commission.
In an hourlong and sometimes rambling presentation, Schlafly said she senses a defeatist attitude among conservatives looking ahead to the fall’s presidential election. In a thinly veiled shot at presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, Schlafly told the crowd to take heart, that real conservatives took “control of the party in 1964 and again in 1980 and we can do it again.”
McCain’s conservative credentials long have been questioned by social conservatives such as Schlafly.
Schlafly told the group that if they were unhappy with “our” candidates, to look at the other party.
“But, don’t you feel sorry for the Democrats?” Schlafly said. “They have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.” [Gosh, yes, isn't it dreadful to be forced to choose between two good candidates who happen to be a woman and a black man? I'm sure Phyllis would find that too icky for words.]
The crowd burst into applause.
She spent part of her hour railing against the threat to national security posed by gay marriage and told the crowd we need more Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas. Well, gosh, at least she didn’t endorse anyone. I guess her McCain hatred will protect her tax-exempt status, at least for now. It doesn’t matter; I still want my money back.
Jefferson County failed to find buyers for sewer debt for the second time last week, meaning interest charges could increase as much as $5 million a month.
A Wall Street auction on $784 million of Jefferson County sewer debt failed last week, pushing interest charges the county must pay each month as much as $5 million higher, a county financial disclosure revealed Wednesday.
The county’s so-called “auction-rate securities” failed to attract buyers at a Feb. 14 auction, causing interest rates on various portions of the debt to increase from 2.08 percent to between 3.08 percent and 10 percent, according to the disclosure document to be distributed to county commissioners today.
It marked the second time this month that Jefferson County has failed to find buyers for auction-rate bonds, causing monthly interest payments to soar, as the fallout from the nation’s subprime mortgage crisis spreads into other credit markets such as municipal bonds.
That $5 million is on top of a $7 million increase earlier in February.
Earlier this month, the interest rate on $221.3 million in sewer bonds increased to 10 percent, from 3.06 percent in January. That transaction cost the county an extra $7 million a month in interest payments.
And it’s only going to get worse:
The substantial increase in interest payments likely will cost taxpayers and sewer rate payers tens of millions of dollars extra this year and has the county studying all options, ranging from restructuring its debt to selling the sewer system to, as a last resort, reorganization under bankruptcy laws.
The county was paying about $11 million a month in interest on its total debt. The auctions that have failed so far could boost that amount to as high as $23 million a month with increasing interest rates.
The rates likely will continue to rise throughout the year, according to the document. [emphasis mine]
County commission members aren’t supposed to be talking about any of this right now, but ratepayers will likely get the message loud and clear in their upcoming sewer bills.