The financial future doesn't look bright for Springfield. According to a recent report by Moody's Investor Service, Springfield's growth is mediocre, and residents should be concerned about a shrinking population and millions of dollars in pension debt.
Moody's credit ratings indicate a city's ability to pay off debt. The better a city's credit rating, the more likely a financial institution will invest and the better rate a city can get on loan payments. With the new warning from Moody's, Springfield may drop to a medium rating, resulting in the City paying higher interest rates when it borrows money.
The report shouldn't come as a surprise to Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder or Budget Director Bill McCarty. Twice as Mayor and six times in elected city office, Moody's has warned Langfelder of the City's financial future, issuing negative outlooks or credit downgrades. Number seven may be right around the corner.
When faced with a credit rating downgrade just a few years ago, Langfelder, McCarty, and the City Council proposed and approved several tax hikes and additional fees to "right the financial ship." Raising the sales tax to the highest in Downstate Illinois, doubling the telecommunications tax, increasing the hotel-motel tax, and piling on fees to CWLP bills - all of which, according to Moody's, did nothing to better Springfield.
Langfelder may want to spend more time attracting new businesses to the City and less time criticizing other local officials, according to Frank Vala, local business owner and Chairman of the Springfield Airport Authority Board. "Mayor Langfedler is captivated on overtaking the Airport Authority, Capital Township, and parts of Sangamon County government, but the Mayor can't even manage the City," Vala said, "For seven years, indecisiveness and mismanagement have plagued the Langfelder administration, and all residents have to show from his time in office is nearly half a dozen tax hikes & fee increases."
Springfield's poor financial outlook is an outlier in the County. Capital Township lowered its tax rate to less than 1%. The Springfield Park District recently received a credit upgrade to its highest level ever. Sangamon County approved over $34 million in building costs and renovations without raising taxes. And the Springfield Airport, led by Vala, received the 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award.
What's best for Springfield is a solid financial future with new business and job opportunities. Mayor Langfelder's inability to bring growth and opportunity to Springfield threatens the City's credit, potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands in high-interest rates.
Thankfully, for Springfield residents, it's not too late. There is a public-private sector partnership focused on economic development. The Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance is an independently funded nonprofit organization dedicated to growing Springfield & Sangamon County's economy. Mayor Langelder and City Council would be wise to follow their direction to attract new businesses. However, to date, Langfelder and those closest to him are content working in silos.