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20 states give public pensions to private lobbyists including North Carolina

At least 20 states offer public pensions to non-government employees, a recent review by the Associated Press found, and North Carolina is among them.

As The News & Observer reported in 2011, the N.C. League of Municipalities, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians police officers are among those that get government pensions under special provisions approved by state lawmakers.

Janet Cowell uses CNBC interview to push for more investment flexibility

State Treasurer Janet Cowell took to national TV this week to make a case for why she needs more flexibility when it comes to managing the state's $80 million pension fund.

Cowell told CNBC's "Fast Money" on Tuesday evening that stocks and bonds are not safe bets right now. The state's retirement money is heavily invested in these areas. "Fixed income is one of the highest risk places you can have your money and that means you're not going to have the money you need for retirement if you are putting your money in bonds,” Cowell said on the show. “Alternatives look increasingly attractive given the volatility of the stock market.”

Morning Memo: NC's new brand; protests expected to swell

NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW BRAND: "North Carolina’s national brand may be changing – but not the way Gov. Pat McCrory intended when he talked during his campaign about the Tar Heel state undergoing an image makeover," writes columnist Rob Christensen. "… The new brand that McCrory seems to want is that North Carolina is more business-friendly. But since he took office in January, the state has been undergoing a brand change of a very different kind. The sharp rightward turn of the legislature and the Moral Monday protests have turned North Carolina into one of the nation’s top political spectacles. … The national coverage is worth millions of dollars of publicity. Unfortunately for North Carolina, it may also be the wrong kind of publicity." Read more here.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: They’re back! The House, after taking off a week to let its conflicts with the Senate – taxes, budgets, gun control – simmer, will be back in town Monday night. The calendar is mostly low-profile, local bills except for a final vote on the bill creating a separate regulatory board for charter schools. The state charter school board would be responsible for handing out new charters and shutting down inadequate schools. The bill would dilute the state Board of Education’s powers. The Senate passed the bill in May. Also back: Moral Monday demonstrations, which are expected to draw huge crowds after the Senate's approval of a major abortion bill.

***Get a complete roundup of political news from the extended holiday weekend below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

State treasurer warns lawmakers pension fund needs more flexibility, or else

State Treasurer Janet Cowell is urging lawmakers to give her more flexibility to invest the state’s pension money, warning that is is “very unlikely” returns will meet projections without the change.

In a recent letter to legislative leaders, Cowell said returns on the state’s $80 billion pension fund are in jeopardy because global stock markets are hitting an all-time high and bond returns are expected to fall. If the state doesn’t meet the 7.25 percent return rate, Cowell said the taxpayers may be on the hook to buttress the promised retirement benefits.

Document(s):
SB558 letter to General Assembly.pdf

As questions are raised, Cowell backs pension investment flexibility

A Senate committee approved legislation Thursday to further loosening investing rules for the state pension fund at the request of Treasurer Janet Cowell, just as the fund's former investment head has been writing some stinging criticism about states that have ramped up their alternatives investments, Scott Mooneyham at the Insider reports.

Andy Silton, who served as chief investment officer during a portion of the terms of former State Treasurer Richard Moore, has gone as far as to question the moves into private equity and hedge funds during his time on the job here. "Unfortunately, we went ahead and implemented a program of investing in hedge funds and private equity. While our program didn’t do any harm, it didn’t help anyone but the money managers," Silton wrote recently.

Morning Memo: McCrory to announce Medicaid overhaul; big day at statehouse

McCRORY TO ANNOUNCE MEDICAID SYSTEM OVERHAUL: Gov. Pat McCrory rejected a Medicaid expansion earlier this year saying the system was broken and Wednesday morning he is expected to describe how he plans to fix it. The Republican has talked frequently about the rising costs of the healthcare system for select low-income and disabled residents and issued a video preview Tuesday saying he would create a "partnership" that will help keep costs low. Check Dome later today for more details from the 10 a.m. press conference.

***It's a jam-packed day in North Carolina politics. Get the full scoop on all the big stories from the Dome Morning Memo below. Send tips and news to dome@newsobserver.com.***

For ex-lawmakers, retirement pays nicely

It pays to be a legislative leader --- even when you're gone. Or out of prison.

Former leaders head the list of those receiving pensions under North Carolina's Legislative Retirement System.

At the top of the list: former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black of Matthews, who served time in prison for corruption. He gets $3,607 a month, according to the state Treasurer's office.

His predecessor, Republican Harold Brubaker of Asheboro, gets $3,444 a month to supplement his income as a lobbyist representing more than a dozen clients including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and GlaxoSmithKline.

Morning Roundup: TV ads mark crucial point in governor's race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton began his television advertising campaign Wednesday, in what could be a critical moment in his race against Republican Pat McCrory. Trailing McCrory in the polls and still not known by nearly half the state’s voters, Dalton hopes the statewide TV advertising campaign will provide his candidacy with a much needed boost.

But the fact that the sitting lieutenant governor is running his first ad in mid-September introducing himself to voters shows how far he has to go in the final eight weeks. Read more here.

More political headlines:

--Senior Republican strategist Charlie Black said Wednesday he would “love to see” his party choose Charlotte for its 2016 national convention.

Janet Cowell gave big raises to pension fund officials

UPDATED: Democratic State Treasuer Janet Cowell is facing questions about why she gave top officials who manage the state's $75 billion pension fund big raises even as most state workers didn't get a salary bump.

From the Insider: Four top officials in the treasurer's investment management division, along with an attorney who works for the treasurer's office, received raises in the 10-percent range during the 2011-12 fiscal year, state personnel records show. Most rank-and-file state workers received no raises that year. A 2008 law, though, allows Cowell to tap pension fund dollars, without going through the appropriations process, to pay top pension fund managers.

Legislature praised for funding retirement system

The Republican-led legislature got an atta boy this week for fully funding the state retirement system in the current budget.

The Board of Trustees of the Teachers' and State Employee' Retirement System passed a resolution this week expressing “deep appreciation and gratitude to the General Assembly ..in securing the advancement of the retirement system.”

Among those signing the resolution was the board's chairwoman, Democratic state treasurer Janet Cowell.

“The positive results discussed in this resolution were made possible by focused lawmakers and responsible budgeting in the General Assembly,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis. “Despite a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, we were able to fully fund that state's retirement system. And we did it without raising taxes.”

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