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Moody’s proposes upping pension debt weighting in credit-rating decisions

Moody's Investors Service is seeking comments from market participants on proposed changes to its methodology for states' general obligation credit ratings, which would include an increased emphasis on states' debt and pension obligations.

Under the proposed changes, debt and pension obligations will have a 25% weight on state credit ratings, up from 20% currently. The individual state's economy, another factor in Moody's ratings, will also have a 25% weight, up from 20%. Governance will fall to 20% from 30% and finances will be maintained at 30%.

The debt and pension factor "is critical because debt and pension obligations are the primary long-term liabilities that states have," Moody's said in an announcement on the proposed changes Tuesday. "As these liabilities grow, states face rising expenses to pay debt and pension benefits. High fixed debt service and pension costs can crowd out other budgetary priorities and force states to raise taxes in order to meet them. Debt and pensions can curtail a state's budgetary flexibility and heighten the risk that it will seek to deleverage through a debt restructuring."

Comments should be submitted on Moody's website by Jan. 18.