County Executive Isiah Leggett announced yesterday that Montgomery County has retained its AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies, an encouraging sign for the county’s economy as the threat of federal sequestration looms.
County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) accompanied Leggett to New York a few weeks ago to meet with representatives of the bond rating agencies —Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s — and on Monday said Moody’s indicated it would link Montgomery County with sequestration, if it happens.
“We have argued to Moody’s that our community is no longer dependent as many are,” Berliner said. “We are a far more diverse economy. We have asked for the opportunity to make that case to them.”
Almost $1.2 trillion in federal cuts are set to kick in Jan. 2, unless Congressional lawmakers figure out an alternative plan. Sequestration would mean federal job losses in both defense and domestic agencies and could mean as many as 12,600 job losses in the state of Maryland, according to an AP report.
It’s unclear how many federal jobs in Montgomery County would be at risk. Two major federal employers, NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, call Bethesda home, as well as a number of private federal government contractors that could also be affected.
The AAA bond rating is important because it allows the county to issue bonds for capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, which in turn saves taxpayers “millions of dollars a year,” according to a county press release.
Montgomery County was one of 38 counties, out of 3,140, to achieve the AAA rating from all three agencies, which Leggett attributed to his effort to close the budget gap during the recession.
“With the tough decisions and actions the County has taken during my administration, we are successfully rebuilding our financial foundation and are on the right path to fiscal sustainability,” Leggett said in a prepared statement. “We continue to make the hard choices necessary to put ourselves on a much stronger fiscal footing, lowering our revenue estimates to reflect economic conditions and building our revenue base by planning for growth and attracting businesses and jobs.”
Over the past six years, the county has reduced more than 1,200 jobs and cut employee pensions.
“These changes were critical to continuing the work I began when first elected to put the County’s fiscal house in order and reduce unsustainable spending,” Leggett said. “The economic downturn made that work even more critical.”