A recent Moody's report was skeptical whether the state's plans for Atlantic City would improve the town's bottom line - and some local observers were quick to note that the bond-rating agency is hardly infallible in its predictions. Now another New Jersey agency contends Moody’s is too glum: The New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
Moody's put the authority on a negative outlook because its revenue is being tapped for projects outside of the toll-road system. A spokesman for the authority disagreed: "Moody’s has a generally negative perspective on the economy of New Jersey and the region, and their rating reflects that," Tom Feeney told Bloomberg News.
Perhaps - although the rating agency didn't lower the authority's healthy A3 rating. It just pointed out that toll-road revenue is being siphoned off for projects outside the toll-road system. New Jersey's transportation fund is broke, Gov. Christie refuses to raise the gas tax to refund it, and the state is looking for money wherever it can find it.
It's hard to envision the toll road defaulting on its bonds. So what's wrong with tapping it for transportation-related projects elsewhere in the state? Nothing, as far as I'm concerned - as long as everyone realizes this isn't free money. Ultimately, it could mean toll increases. The money has to come from somewhere.
As a footnote: Personally, I'd rather these bond-rating agencies err on the side of gloom. Remember, these were the folks that gave unrealistically sunny, investment grades to bonds backed by toxic mortgages. They are, as some have noted, far from infallible.