Howard County has maintained a AAA bond rating from agencies Standard & Poors, Moody's Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings since the mid-1990s, but if Moody's downgrades the federal government to AA-plus, Howard County could follow.
Howard County Budget Director Ray Wacks told the County Council on Monday, Feb. 11, that Moody's has informed the county that if the federal government is downgraded due to sequestration — government spending cuts due to take effect March 1 — Moody's also would downgrade the county's bond rating.
Wacks said Moody's believes that jurisdictions with a "higher than average" exposure to the federal government, such as federal jobs, cannot have a higher rating than the federal government.
He said the county has conveyed its "outrage" to Moody's.
"It seems arbitrary and not indicative of what a bond agency should do," Wacks said, adding that the county should be evaluated based on its own circumstances.
Moody's decision would also affect counties such as Harford, Prince George's and Baltimore along with the state's bond rating.
A lower bond rating could force the county to pay higher interest rates, but Wacks said it's hard to predict specifically how it would impact Howard County.
The market could ignore the rating, knowing that the county's downgrade was due to the federal government, he said.
Howard County officials are scheduled to travel to New York at the end of this month for their annual presentation to bond-rating agencies, but Wacks said Moody's could make a decision "whenever they want."
Turner: no gun confiscation
Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat, was on the defensive last week during the Howard County Delegation's public hearing on statewide legislation.
After a resident quoted a Turner email in which he believed Turner endorsed gun confiscation, the audience clamored for the entire email to be read before state Sen. Jim Robey, also a Democrat, asked the next resident to testify.
The portion of Turner's email to Jessup resident Don Wood in question read: "The real challenge is how to collect the thousands of assault weapons already in circulation and the need to add more state and federal funding to mental health issues."
Turner said Tuesday, Feb. 12, that he does not support gun confiscation being included in any gun control legislation introduced in the General Assembly.
"We all know you can't do that," he said.
Turner said he "probably shouldn't have" worded the email like he did. He said he did so to try and get people's attention because state officials still are negotiating gun control legislation.
"I'm not sure we have really figured out the right thing to do," he said.
Turner said he is sending a different letter to constituents concerning gun control.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed a gun control package that includes a ban on the sale of "military-style" assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and requires licensing and training for handgun buyers.
Budget hearing announced
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will host a second public hearing on the fiscal year 2014 budget on March 11, at 7 p.m., in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building, in Ellicott City.
Residents who wish to speak at the hearing may sign up or submit written testimony online beginning Feb. 25 at http://www.howardcountymd.gov/budgettestimony.htm.
Residents can also sign up in person March 11, beginning at 6 p.m.
For more information about the hearing or for accommodations, contact the budget office at 410-313-2077.