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Memo offers a glance at N.C. budget picture

Just before she left office, former Gov. Bev Perdue issued a budget for the upcoming two-year cycle. It's a document that was required by law but was largely symbolic as she left office and handed control to Republican Pat McCrory.

How symbolic? The document itself is no longer available on the governor's Web site. Still, it did provide a preview about the shape of the state's finances approaching a new year, budgetwise, including that Perdue's team saw room for pay raises and other expansions that were off the table in the worst years. McCrory, in his first news conference as governor, also said the state is looking at a small surplus heading in to budget season.

A recent memo from one state budget guru, Dan Gerlach, who was former Gov. Mike Easley's budget czar, adds a similar view of the overall picture.

Spellchecker unchecked

Dome makes its own share of blunders and in no way means to demean our distinguished colleagues at the Associated Press ("A deadline every minute.") A recent correction, however, was too humorous to refrain from sharing. It also requires no additional comment.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) In an Oct. 9 story about state and local incentives used to lure a Dell Inc. plant to North Carolina, The Associated Press misspelled the surname of the president of the Golden LEAF fund. The correct name is Dan Gerlach, not Girlish.

Why Gerlach used private e-mail

There has been some discussion online about why former Mike Easley aide Dan Gerlach was using a private email account as part of his contacts related to finding former first lady Mary Easley a job at N.C. State.

The reason is straightforward, Gerlach said in an interview, Andy Curliss reports.

He had been teaching at State as an adjunct member of the faculty — and used his private account often in that role. That kept student emails and the like separate from his state account, he said.

So when the Easley matter came up, he somehow contacted the political science chair, Jim Svara.

The first email in the chain is from Svara back to Gerlach.

Gerlach said that was natural because it would have been the email account that Svara always used to contact Gerlach.

More after the jump.

Garrett Perdue, economic developer?

Garrett PerdueGarrett Perdue belongs to a group of economic developers.

Earlier this year, the son of Gov. Beverly Perdue joined the N.C. Economic Developers Association, a statewide association of site consultants, engineers and Chamber of Commerce types who help recruit business.

He was also listed among the attendees of the group's mid-winter conference, one of three it holds each year. Speakers included economics professor Mike Walden and Dan Gerlach, former budget advisor to Gov. Mike Easley.

Executive Director John Peterson said the group was founded in 1966 to offer training to economic developers and advocate for local, state and federal policies that would benefit the state's business climate.

Its roughly 600 members pay $200 a year to belong.

Much of the group's work focuses on state business. Its 2009 legislative agenda calls for support of three corporate incentives programs run by the N.C. Department of Commerce, funding community colleges, and lowering the state's sales taxes, among other things.

Peterson said the group is also concerned about a federal card-check bill.

Perdue names BRAC members

Gov. Beverly Perdue named the rest of a budget-cutting panel. 

The five appointees include Dan Gerlach, a former budget adviser to former Gov. Mike Easley who now runs the Golden LEAF Foundation, and Norma Houston, a former chief of staff to Senate leader Marc Basnight, the Associated Press reports.

Other new members include former Glaxo chief executive Charlie Sanders, the first chairman of the state lottery commission; IBM executive Curtis Clark; and N.C. Central department chairman Ron Penny.

Earlier this month, Perdue named former Cabinet member Norris Tolson and Hilda Pinnix-Ragland to head the committee.

The so-called Budget Reform and Accountability Commission will propose ways to cut state spending for the legislature to accept or reject.

Truax heads to Z. Smith Reynolds

Hawley Truax is heading to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

The senior policy adviser to Gov. Mike Easley will now be working for the Winston-Salem-based nonprofit, which focuses on social justice, environmental and community projects.

Former Democratic labor commissioner candidate Mary Fant Donnan also works at the foundation.

Truax was one of two Easley advisers who got in trouble in 2007 for helping a longtime Easley ally arrange a private consulting business.

With Easley's second term drawing to a close, many of his top advisers are leaving for other jobs.

Former budget adviser Dan Gerlach now heads the Golden LEAF Foundation

Gerlach lands at Golden LEAF

ROCKY MOUNT - Dan Gerlach, a top economic adviser to Gov. Mike Easley, today was named president of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

At a meeting in Rocky Mount, the foundation’s board approved hiring Gerlach, with a goal of having him take over Oct. 1, Jonathan Cox reports.

"He's the kind of person that's very energetic and very well-attuned to getting things done," said Tommy Bunn, Golden LEAF's chairman.

Foundation officials said they were attracted to Gerlach because he has experience in rural areas, understands the legislature and economic development.

Gerlach interviewed for the job today in a closed session. He was one of five final candidates, after Golden LEAF received about 300 applicants.

The Rocky Mount-based foundation, created in 1999, administers installments from the national legal settlement that states reached with the major tobacco companies. The money, ultimately totaling more than $2 billion, is designated to help tobacco-dependent and economically distressed communities.

The board began looking for a new president earlier this year when Valeria Lee announced she was stepping down.

Senate leader Marc Basnight said in June that Easley asked him to encourage Golden LEAF board members to consider Gerlach for the post.

Panel questions lottery's benefits

An oversight committee expressed concern Friday that the N.C. lottery's benefits to education could be overstated.

Members of the Lottery Oversight Committee said that, in at least some cases, state lawmakers and Gov. Mike Easley appear to have used lottery revenue only to replace education money that would have come from elsewhere.

"It appears that there is a substantial degree of supplanting and not 100 percent supplementing," said Myron Coulter, co-chair of the committee and a former chancellor of Western Carolina University.

Committee members pointed to two of the four programs that the lottery is supposed to help fund: the More at Four program for pre-kindergarteners and teacher salaries to reduce elementary-school class sizes. In both cases, they said they suspected that lottery revenue is supplanting money that the General Assembly would have found from elsewhere.

"It appears to be the consensus of the committee that that's not a good thing," said co-chair William Harrison, superintendent of the Cumberland County Schools.

The committee said it intends to study the issue further and consider recommendations for lawmakers.

UPDATE: Easley budget adviser Dan Gerlach argues there has been no supplanting of previous education funding.

In a response sent Friday to Dome, Gerlach said the proper measure should be overall pre-K-12 education spending, which has continued to go up since the lottery's passage. The oversight committee should not try to speculate on what might have happened to specific programs without the lottery, he said.

Budget buddies

Gerlach & Basnight

Senate leader Marc Basnight, right, and Dan Gerlach, senior budget adviser to Gov. Mike Easley, joke around in the Legislative Building while being photographed tonight after Basnight and House Speaker Joe Hackney announced in a joint news conference that  they have reached an agreement on a $21.3 billion state budget proposal.  (Staff photo by Ethan Hyman)

Because I said so...

N.C. House and Senate budget negotiators have repeatedly said that joint meetings are public.

They had such a joint meeting this morning. But when a News & Observer reporter tried to enter, they kicked him out.

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, could not cite a reason under the public meetings law as to why a reporter would be excluded. But he said the meeting had nothing to do with the budget, reports Dan Kane.

"Because we were just hearing a report from staff," Rand said. "It had nothing to do with negotiations."

He said the report was an "economic briefing."

What did it say?

"We're not sure."

Why can't a reporter listen to that?

"Because we're trying to determine if there's something we want to do," Rand said. "I mean, that was just a staff thing."

Related to the budget?

"Related to anything."

Budget negotiators were the only ones attending. A brief glimpse into the meeting showed Dan Gerlach, senior budget adviser to Gov. Mike Easley, and legislative fiscal staff addressing the lawmakers.

Gerlach left several minutes later.

What were they meeting about?

"Talking about the budget," Gerlach said as he walked away.

After the meeting broke up, Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat and the House's chief budget writer, said his team had nothing to do with the decision to close the meeting.

"They ran you out of there," he said of the Senate budget negotiators. "That was their meeting. It wasn't mine."

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