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Morning Memo: Hundreds furloughed; U.S. Senate candidates make moves

HUNDREDS OF STATE WORKERS FURLOUGHED: The federal government shutdown caused the furlough of hundreds of state government workers whose jobs are fully or partially federally funded Tuesday, and state officials said several thousand more jobs could be be affected.

The state Department of Health and Human Services told 337 employees not to show up for work Wednesday morning. Officials said as many 4,500 DHHS workers could be furloughed or see their hours reduced. There was also a smaller furlough in the Department of Transportation, and a small group of workers at the state Labor Department saw their hours slashed in half.

#NCSEN DAY: The Republican challengers in the U.S. Senate race are all making moves this week to position themselves. Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris enters the race today, Thom Tillis is hiring staff and Greg Brannon is touting fundraising numbers.

***Read all the U.S. Senate race news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

State workers may feel effects from federal shutdown

The federal government shut down could effect as many as 6,000 state government workers whose jobs are fully or partially federally funded, North Carolina officials said Tuesday.

Art Pope, the state budget director, said state officials would not know exactly how many state employees would be affected until guidelines were issued by federal agencies about what jobs were deemed as critical.

NC House budget spends less than Senate, saves more state jobs

House Republicans have proposed a $20.57 billion budget that its leaders expect to approve this week.

The budget, released late Sunday night, is slightly less than the Senate’s proposal but the two chambers are divided on how to spend the money. Those differences were evident when budget details were presented in House committees on Friday.

One new detail of the two-year spending plan unveiled Sunday: The House cuts about 738 state jobs, about half the 1,495 the Senate would cut.

Morning Roundup: A N.C. company touted by President Obama closes abrubtly

A North Carolina furniture company closed abruptly Thursday just one year after it was hailed by President Barack Obama as an example of the recovering U.S. economy. Lincolnton Furniture Company operations stopped indefinitely and only a few people will remain employed moving forward, company financial officer Ben Causey said. Full story here.

More political headlines:

--North Carolina's congressional delegation is now firmly Republican after GOP redistricting redrew the political favor. Here's a look at Raleigh Republican George Holding's outlook as a freshman. He has one priority: cutting spending.

--For Raleigh-based state government workers who endured four years without a pay raise, the free bus pass was a nice benefit while it lasted. The state ended its funding.

SEANC radio ad cites GOP's broken promises

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is taking aim at the House GOP's budget with a series of radio ads.

The first one launched today in the Raleigh market focuses on what the group says is Republicans' promise to make cost-of-living adjustments for active and retire state employees.

Democratic lawmaker: Give a penny, hire a state worker

N.C. Rep. Bill Faison wants to rebrand the little cup that holds pennies at cash registers: Give a penny, hire a state worker.

The Cedar Grove Democrat pitched a  plan Thursday to reverse the state jobs cut in this year's budget by reinstating the one penny sales tax -- a plan he asks Republicans to consider during next week's special session. He says the sales tax would draw $1.1 billion in revenue and it would cost just much less to rehire the 6,455 state employees whose positions were eliminated in the budget that took effect July 1.

Republicans pounced on the Democrat's idea. "New taxes do not create private sector jobs, and this proposal suggests that Representative Faison and North Carolina Democrats don’t understand that fact," spokesman Rob Lockwood said in a statement.

But it's tough to smear all Democrats with Faison's paint. He stood behind the podium at the Legislative Building by himself, though he made vague references to support from members of his caucus. And even Faison acknowledged upon questioning that his plan is dead on arrival.

Coalition calls for collective bargaining for state workers

A coalition of labor, civil rights and religious groups rallied in front of the General Assembly offices today to call for an end to North Carolina's ban on public employees' collective bargaining and to resist balancing the state budget at the expense of public sector jobs and programs.

The rally drew about 100 supporters who listened to several speakers representing labor, churches and the NAACP, staff writer Craig Jarvis reports. About two dozen people staged a counter-protest across across the street in Bicentennial Plaza, shouting and chanting throughout the rally.

Both sides cited the public employees' union standoff in Wisconsin, where that state's governor has proposed to reduce public employee's pay and benefits and to limit their collective-bargaining rights.

SEANC: Ethics allegation troubling

SEANC wants a bill on the State Health Plan reconsidered.

In a letter to Speaker Joe Hackney, State Employees Association of N.C. head Dana Cope wrote that a recent ethics allegation raises questions about the way a recent House bill was handled.

In the letter, Cope alleges that an insurance company lobbied a state legislator to get the bill killed, and that the matter was referred to the State Bureau of Investigation. 

Earlier this month, the Legislative Ethics Committee reported that a lawmaker said he was approached by a lobbyist with an offer to get a constituent's debt forgiven in exchange for killing a bill. 

Though Cope names names, committee members did not identify either the legislator or the lobbyist, and neither they nor Attorney General Roy Cooper's office would confirm if the SBI was investigating.

Cope argued that the allegations over the House bill raise questions about fixes to the State Health Plan signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue, since the insurance company was consulted by legislators about the State Health Plan fix.

"It seems inconceivable to me that anyone would have faith in in the vote on that bill after recent events," Cope said in the letter.

He asked for Hackney to order the House to reconsider the State Health Plan bill.

Why Easley gave out more awards

Franklin Freeman thinks two things led to the increase in the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

The longtime adviser to former Gov. Mike Easley said that they put an application for the award on their Web site and publicized that it was open to retiring state and local government workers.

Between January of 2001 and December of 2008, 26,000 state workers and 6,000 city and county employees retired, according to figures from the state retirement system. Many were nominated by their bosses for the order over the Internet.

"When we put the application form on the Web, it made it much more accessible," Freeman said.

Easley gave out 4,034 awards during his two terms in office, about one and a half times as many as his predecessor. Former Gov. Jim Hunt had given roughly 2,730 in his most recent two terms. 

Freeman, who gave out the award a number of times on Easley's behalf and received it himself, said it comes with a certificate and the right to give the state toast.

"Other than that, it's just the honor associated with the award, and that to some degree perhaps is in the eye of the beholder," he said. 

Perdue's executive order rewritten

Gov. Beverly Perdue's proclamation declaring a furlough for state workers underwent a rewrite Tuesday after complaints from state employees that it was confusing.

The revised version makes it clearer that state employees are not required to take 10 hours off without pay, in addition to having their pay cut by half of a percentage point.

The initial proclamation said the governor's budget plan read:

a) The part of the annualized base salaries of all covered employees paid from moneys appropriated by the 2008 Appropriations Act will be reduced by .5 percent over the remainder of this year: and

b) all full time employees whose salaries are reduced pursuant to subjection (a) shall be furloughed for 10 hours without pay at times to be designed by their employing agency between June 1 and December 31, 2009, and all employees employed less than full-time whose salaries are reduced pursuant to subsection (a) shall be furloughed a pro-rated number of hours.”

The revised proclamation changes the language to make it clear that employees will not get hit twice.

The new language for part (b) now reads "in return, all full-time employees whose salaries are reduced pursant to subsection (a) shall receive 10 hours of flexible furlough leave to be taken at times to be designated by their employing agency between June 1 and December 31, 2009, and all employees employed less than full-time whose salaries are reduced pursuant to subsection (a) shall receive flexible furlough leave for pro-rated number of hours."

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