Politics & Government

How much money has HB2 cost North Carolina?


In calling on state leaders to repeal House Bill 2, a Democratic state representative – Chris Sgro, who also leads a group suing over the new law – cited both his moral opposition and the financial backlash North Carolina has suffered.

“We’ve already lost $500 million in economic impact and now we are violating federal civil rights law and risking Title IX funding,” Sgro said in a press release after the Obama administration announced its belief that HB2 violates various federal laws. “This is a travesty and embarrassment for North Carolina.”

The General Assembly passed HB2 in March. The wide-ranging state law includes a requirement that people in government facilities use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate.

A number of businesses, performing artists, conventions and more have announced boycotts of the Tar Heel State in response. That led Sgro (who was appointed to the General Assembly after HB2 passed and is the only openly gay legislator in North Carolina) to claim the law has cost North Carolina half a billion dollars.

North Carolina’s gross domestic product in 2015 was about $500 billion. So a $500 million loss wouldn’t be that much in the grand scheme of things. But it would still be important for the individuals and businesses who had counted on having that money.

Sgro said he was quoting a study from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The D.C.-based liberal think tank published a study April 13 that detailed the actual and potential economic losses through 2018, due to boycotts over HB2.

North Carolina had already lost $86.3 million by mid-April, according to the report.

So why did Sgro say $500 million a short time later?

It’s worth noting that the CAP study isn’t the only one – Time Warner Cable News put the losses at $77 million. But since Sgro said he was citing the CAP study, we’ll look at that one.

Reading further, the CAP report goes on to say that North Carolina could lose an additional $481.2 million in the future, for a total of $567.5 million. That’s the number Sgro said he was referring to.

The key here is the distinction the report makes between money that’s at risk versus money already lost.

In an interview, though, Sgro defended combining the two.

“I really think the higher number is the more accurate way to couch the economics of this,” he said. “There are some really tangible losses already.”

There are indeed tangible losses. But even throwing in an estimated, yet-to-be-verified loss suffered by the High Point Furniture Market – which happened between when the study was released and when Sgro made his remarks – the “already lost” tally still isn’t even half of the $500 million Sgro claimed.

We double-checked each of the individual losses listed in the study’s $86.3 million figure and were able to confirm all but $1 million that appears to come from outdated information, and a more recent loss essentially cancels out that addition.

The CAP study was released before Asheville announced more than $1 million in losses after a conference cancellation. Since that essentially cancels out the difference in the film losses, we’ll continue to use the $86.3 million cited by CAP.

Sgro said there are also losses that can’t be counted. Google’s venture capital branch has also pledged not to invest in North Carolina, and several studios have said they won’t film in the Tar Heel State – all losses that are difficult to quantify.

“It’s significant, and it’s compounding every single day we don’t repeal the bill,” Sgro said.

Still, though, those are future potential losses – not money that has already been lost. And we weren’t convinced by the argument that it’s accurate to lump the two together.

That’s because a closer look shows that many of the companies listed in the CAP study haven’t actually promised to pull their investments out of North Carolina if HB2 remains state law.

ESPN “said it’s re-evaluating its plans,” to bring the X Games to Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Observer. That’s a potential loss estimated at $50 million, but it might not happen even if HB2 remains the law.

The same goes for another $127.5 million from Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, Red Ventures, the NCAA and various conferences in Raleigh. In each of those cases, the groups said only that they would reconsider plans in North Carolina. None said for certain that HB2 would derail those plans.

Giving Sgro the benefit of the doubt, we’ll also add in estimated losses from this spring’s High Point Furniture Market.

CEO Tom Conley told us they haven’t counted the market’s revenues and attendance yet, so there’s no accurate count. But CAP estimate the losses, over a period of two years for the twice-annual market, at $143.4 million. Using CAP’s formula and attendance numbers from previous spring markets, we calculated that $55.4 million could’ve already been lost at last month’s market.

A researcher with CAP told us he thinks the estimate is a bit conservative, pointing to a CBS News story that estimated $115 million in losses this spring alone.

Neither number, though, gets Sgro’s “already lost” claim even close to $500 million.

If the CAP estimates on the furniture market turn out to be accurate, then combined with the $86.3 million in already lost and documented funds, we come to a total of $141.7 million already lost from North Carolina’s economy. That’s less than a third of what Sgro said. Using the CBS estimate, the total rises to $201.3 million.

Finally, it’s important to note that that some of the already-lost money might even return to North Carolina in the future. PayPal and Deutsche Bank stopped plans to hire hundreds of workers, but they also both said they might change their minds if HB2 is repealed.

Our ruling

North Carolina’s economy has already lost, by various counts, either $77 million, $86.3 million, $141.7 million or $201.3 million. None of those are even close to the $500 million Sgro claimed has already been lost.

It’s true that the state might eventually lose up to $567.5 million in economic impact, according to one study. Sgro was using that number, but the vast majority of that money hasn’t already been lost, like he claimed it had been.

We rate this claim False.

Fact check

Speaker: Rep. Chris Sgro

Statement: “We’ve already lost $500 million in economic impact” from HB2 fallout in North Carolina.

Ruling: It’s true that the state might eventually lose up to $567.5 million in economic impact, according to one study. Sgro was using that number, but the vast majority of that money hasn’t already been lost, like he claimed it had been. We rate this claim False.