"Brokers will tell you that particular state and municipal bond issues are 'safe,' meaning that they are rated highly by the rating agencies," said Hutchinson. "However, the rating agencies got it wrong on subprime mortgage instruments, and it seems pretty clear that they are getting it wrong on states and municipalities."
On the municipal level, local property taxes are the primary revenue source. Declining home prices and increased mortgage delinquencies are creating a housing market that offers little local revenue. Municipalities are then left struggling to make ends meet.
Hutchinson said the vicious cycle could send municipal-bond defaults soaring past 2009's $6.4 billion.