SEC redefines 'sophisticated' in municipal market

Starting in July, dealers in the U.S. municipal bond market will have a simpler time identifying customers who qualify as sophisticated investors and more buyers will be considered institutional customers.

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday approved a new definition of “sophisticated municipal market professional,” which will go into effect on July 9, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board said on Tuesday.

The new definition will help determine the suitability of transactions for some bond buyers. If a buyer is not considered sophisticated, then investor protections could apply and a broker-dealer would be accountable for making sure the buyer understood the purchase

Maryland budget measure pressures counties -Moody's

 

May 29 (Reuters) - A move in Maryland to shrink a large budget gap by shifting millions of dollars in pension costs to counties will help the state’s credit quality, but could hurt local governments’ financial health, Moody’s Investors Service said on Tuesday.

"The measure is credit positive for the state," the agency said in a report, but added that "the change is credit negative for affected local governments, which will certainly face a material increase in expenditures despite revenue measures intended to offset some of those expenses."

The recently passed legislation will save the top-rated state a net $109 million in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. The net savings will climb to $154 million in fiscal 2016.

Puerto Rico bets on American tourists to repay debt

Michael Connor reports that the Caribbean island hopes American tourists will flock to its sand, surf and spanking new resorts to help pay off massive debts.

Portfolio manager Robert DiMella… discounts as overblown predictions Puerto Rico’s finances will swell into a crisis as severe as Greece’s. But he says investors’ interest in the island’s debt can suddenly dry up. Puerto Rico is unlikely to default on any bonds but will need to extend maturities or otherwise restructure some of its $3.8 billion of appropriations debt, DiMella said.

This paragraph really caught my eye: But with debt equivalent to 103 percent of its annual gross product, the U.S. territory carries a burden that would make troubled states like California and Illinois blanch. The two states’ debt levels are just under 5 percent of economic output. 

And another staggering comparison:    By many financial measures, Puerto Rico is an outlier. Its net tax-supported debt in 2010 equaled $10,474 per person, compared with a U.S. per capita mean of $1,408, $2,542 in California and $2,383 in Illinois.

Recession not ending for MD counties

Maryland’s large counties are stretching their finances. Two reports:

The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved Thursday the spending plan proposed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for the coming fiscal year, a $1.65 billion operating budget that includes no furloughs, layoffs or tax increases.

The lean budget, which goes into effect in July, relies heavily on savings from retirements, attrition and reorganizations in county agencies. The county will have 7 percent fewer employees than in the previous year.

The council emphasized that local government would have less to work with as employees try to deliver the same level of services.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-co-budget-adoption-20120524,0,90904.story

Prince George’s County employees will go without pay raises for the fourth year in row under the budget approved by the County Council on Thursday, though they will get $2,250 in bonuses over the next two years.

The $2.68 billion budget for fiscal 2012, which the council unanimously approved, also includes a 25-cent tax hike on home sales in Prince George’s.

The budget plan is a roughly $30 million increase from fiscal 2011, though county spending is nearly flat year to year. The increase includes the General Assembly-approved shift of teacher pension costs to local jurisdictions, a move that added $19.6 million to the county’s bill.

http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/maryland-news/2012/05/pg-budget-keeps-worker-pay-flat-adds-bonuses/651151

Fiscal problems 'looming on horizon' for Maryland

This is from April. Then in May, the legislature’s analysts said the state will have future budget gaps. Maryland was supposed to have weathered the revenue collapse better than most.

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland’s tax collector warned on Wednesday that residents may need to pay $1.4 billion extra to pay off the state’s debt in the next few years.

"I just want to indicate to everyone that we have some significant problems looming on the horizon," said Comptroller Peter Franchot during a Board of Public Works meeting in which officials kept the state property tax at 11.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Franchot pointed to a new report from the Commission on State Debt showing shortfalls of $246 million, $311 million, $395 million and $440 million in fiscal years 2014 through 2017 if property tax rates remain the same.

Will A Golf Course Save Benton Harbor's Economy?

The Whirlpool Corp., the largest home appliance maker in the world, wants to improve its hometown of Benton Harbor, Mich. Executives are leveraging a PGA-approved golf course to try to turn the city into a tourist destination. But many residents aren’t convinced becoming a tourist town is the best way to create jobs.

Census accuracy report shakes up municipal challenges
The three cities with the highest projected heat death tolls are Louisville, with an estimated 19,000 heat-related fatalities by 2099; Detroit, with 17,900, and Cleveland, with 16,600,

Concentrated populations of poor people without access to air conditioning are expected to contribute to the rising death tolls.

Thousands of additional heat deaths were also projected by century’s end for Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., the report said.

June, July and August are expected to see above-normal temperatures over most of the contiguous United States, from inland California to New Jersey, and from as far north as Idaho and Wyoming to Texas, Florida and the desert Southwest, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a May 17 forecast.

Property taxes give NY Westchester edge over peers

Joan Gralla reports that:

Rockland County, which lies north of New York City and has a population just one third that of Westchester, and larger Nassau and Suffolk, which lie east of Manhattan on Long Island, depend more on sales taxes. 
   Sales taxes are a more volatile source of revenues that, compounded over the years with bad management, have pushed down cash reserves and credit ratings. 
   Although all four counties, whose household incomes and housing values easily exceed national averages, rely heavily on Wall Street as their economic engine, their fortunes have diverged markedly 
  All four were badly hit by the financial crisis, and after the recession all four counties elected new leaders, who say their predecessors overspent and over-taxed.   
   But Westchester boasts reserves of $110 million in fiscal 2012, markedly down from a record high of $177 million in 2006, but it still claims a top-tier credit rating because of its healthier finances.

State budgets spring new, smaller holes

Finding balance may be tough, as states gutted their budgets and enacted temporary tax hikes when their revenues began collapsing in 2009. Budget shortfalls for fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2012 totaled more than $530 billion, CBPP noted.

State revenues remain 7 percent below pre-recession levels “and are not growing fast enough to recover fully soon,” the CBPP said.

"Meanwhile states’ education and healthcare obligations continue to grow," it added. "Next year, states expect to educate 350,000 more K-12 students and 1.7 million more public college and university students in the upcoming school year than in 2007-08."

At the same time, states expect 5.6 million more people to become eligible for the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, which states run with reimbursements from the federal government and which already takes up a third of some states’ budgets.

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