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L.A. credit rating takes a hit in light of grim budget outlook

November 24, 2009 |  6:15 pm
Los Angeles is about to pay a price for its financial woes.

The city’s credit was downgraded today by Fitch Ratings on $2.94 billion in debt, meaning that borrowing money will become more expensive for Los Angeles as it grapples with a $98-million current-year budget shortfall and faces the prospect of graver fiscal woes in the years ahead.

The financial ratings service credited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council for taking aggressive action to whittle down the budget gap, but added it wasn’t enough and that the ratings outlook for the city remains negative. Fitch Ratings, in a statement released today, said the “city’s economic decline, as evidenced by high unemployment, sales tax weakness, assessed value losses and high home foreclosure ... will impede financial recovery."

“It signals that we have some very difficult choices to make in the future," said Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city’s top budget official. “We simply cannot be spending at the rate that we have in the past."

Tomorrow, Santana is scheduled to brief the council on the downgrade, as well as the city’s financial status.

Council President Eric Garcetti said the rating downgrade shows that the city still needs to make sweeping structural changes to its $7.05-billion budget. Even after winning concessions from city unions, including pay cuts and an early retirement program, the city still faces a $98-million shortfall in the current budget year and a $408-million budget gap next year.

-- Phil Willon at L.A. City Hall