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North Dakota Keeps Top Spot in Conning Ranking; Kentucky Is Last

North Dakota and South Dakota top all states in economic health, according to Conning, which oversees $9 billion in municipal debt for insurance companies.

North Carolina leapfrogged 13 states compared with the previous ranking in October and Nevada jumped 10 levels, while Alaska and Kansas fell 14 and 12 spots, respectively, according to Conning, which also raised the outlook on U.S. states to improving from stable. Kansas was the most recent state to have its rating cut by Moody’s Investors Service, which gives a stable view to the nation’s states.

The report says Kentucky, Connecticut and Illinois, which have the lowest-funded state pension systems, also have the worst economic health. It shows how debt and pension burdens are difficult to shed, Paul Mansour, head of Conning’s municipal research group in Hartford, Connecticut, said in an interview.

“Not much has changed in terms of the trend -- credit quality is getting better, tax revenue is coming in better than expected and expenditures so far have been restrained,” Mansour said.

Conning’s report includes areas such as debt relative to personal income, tax-revenue growth as well as changes in unemployment and population. Mansour said the company added munis last year, though it has been reducing its position in 2014 amid a rally in local debt.

North Dakota, buoyed by a fracking boom, has the lowest state unemployment rate, at 2.6 percent in March. The U.S. figure was 6.3 percent in April.

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