Friday, May 6, 2016
HB2: Raleigh to North Carolina: "You have to beg us to raise the minimum wage, but we'll jerk your credit ratings around for free!"
BRADENTON, Fla. – Two rating agencies flagged North Carolina's implementation of House Bill 2 in upcoming bond offerings amid a national controversy over the law.
Moody's Investors Service ( MCO ) said on Monday that it is monitoring impacts of the bill - "seen by some as being discriminatory towards the LGBT community" - on the economies of Charlotte and Wake County.
Both Charlotte and Wake face credit challenges from the "possibility of slowed economic activity due negative response to the implementation of House Bill 2, coupled with less competitive state corporate incentive packages than neighboring states," Moody's analysts said, using the same language in separate credit reports.
Charlotte and Wake County plan to issue bonds later this month with bond documents disclosing HB 2, which was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23.
HB2 requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that conform to the sex on their birth certificate.
It has sparked protests across the country, several lawsuits, cancellation of major concerts, and termination of business expansion projects, including PayPal's withdrawal of plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department in a letter to McCrory advised that the bill violated federal civil rights laws, and threatens certain federal funds received by the state and public universities.
"This is something that's been somewhat of a moving target," Charlotte treasurer Scott Greer said Thursday, referring to events that unfolded since the law was signed.
The city is preparing to disclose the legislation in the preliminary official statement for the May 18 pricing of $57.2 million of new and refunding certificates of participation, Greer said.
The POS is expected to be released Monday or Tuesday.
Moody's assigned an Aa2 to the COPs.
Standard & Poor's rated the COPs AA-plus, and also included a note in its report about reaction to the state law.
"Currently, the economic effects of this legislation are unknown, but, in our opinion, it should not have a material effect on the city's fiscal performance," S&P said.
Greer said the city is a strong credit with strong revenues, and disclosing information about HB2 is part of the normal process of presenting investors "the whole picture" in advance of offerings.
"We're trying to do our jobs, be responsive to the buyers, and follow regulations," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen and we can't speculate about what's happening, but it is absolutely important to the people who buy the bonds that they understand the risks and the benefits."
Wake County is scheduled to issue $200 million of limited obligation refunding bonds on May 19.
In its POS, released Tuesday, the county said that the response to HB2 "over time could have a negative impact on the state's economy overall."
The bill is not expected to have a material adverse effect on the county's financial condition or its ability to pay debt service on the bonds, the POS said.
Moody's, which rated the refunding bonds Aa1, noted that Deutsche Bank AG decided not to expand in Wake County after HB2 was passed, costing the metro area 200 jobs.
In addition to national attention to the North Carolina law, some localities have expressed concern about its potential impact on sporting events.
On April 28, the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted an anti-discrimination measure requiring event host sites to "demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination."
The passage of HB2 by the legislature was prompted by the inclusion of 11 words - marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression – in Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance in February.