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GOP Leadership, State Employees Upset Over Easley's Criticism

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley announced that he is moving ahead with plans to lay off 1,300 state employees on Aug. 1. That response is causing officials with the State Employees Association and GOP leadership to fight back.

The North Carolina Agency for Public Telecommunications and the Open Net forum on statewide television will shut down July 31. Eighteen employees will be out of a job. Those are just some of the 1,300 employees that are losing their job as a result of the state's budget crisis. The State Employees Association said the massive work force reduction is making it tough on workers.

"These are employees who are calling us. They are so concerned about how they are going to put food on the table for their families and how they are going to afford school supplies for their kids who are going back to school in August," said Sherry Melton of the State Employees Association.

Officials with the State Employees Association said they are also frustrated with Easley's decision to cut jobs. They claim the governor is using his office to force lawmakers to raise taxes and approve a statewide lottery.

"They're really been jerked around. They got pink slips at the end of May and were told that they would be out of a job July 1. Then, they were told, 'well, report to work on a day-by-day basis,' Melton said. "Now, they've been told the end of the month unless the General Assembly has a budget. They're just at wits' end."

Easley said the House Republicans are to blame for the budget shortfall and his decision to force layoffs.

"What the truth is we don't have a budget. Our fiscal year ended June 30. We do have a $1.5 billion shortfall and we haven't made it up and we do have to make some cuts," Easley said. "Unless we get some participation or solutions by the Republican leadership, there won't be a budget this year."

On Friday, Republicans responded to Easley's criticism.

"Last time I checked, they had a majority in the House, his party, and a majority in the Senate. What it shows to me is this guy does not have the capability of leading our state. He is a do-nothing governor," said Bill Cobey, chairman for the state Republician Party.

For two straight years, Easley has had to manage budget shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Three weeks into the new fiscal year, he is again having to use emergency budget powers to try to address the problems because lawmakers have approved neither new spending cuts nor any new revenue.

"The Republican leadership is clearly in political lockdown mode, encouraging their membership to defeat any solution offered and to offer none of their own," Easley said on Thursday.

On Thursday, the state House defeated a bill that would have allowed local governments raise the sales tax and generate $252 million for state coffers.

The vote went largely along party lines, with six liberal Democrats voting with the Republicans against the legislation and three Republicans voting with Democrats.

The revenue bill was seen as key to helping gain a budget agreement. It would have resulted in sales taxes rising from 6.5 to 7 percent in counties that enacted the increase. The tax would fall back to 6.5 percent a year later when a temporary statewide half-cent increase dropped off.

The tax swap, which local governments had lobbied for, would have given counties the ability to raise sales taxes by a half-penny as early as Sept. 1. In exchange, the state would pull back reimbursements to local governments that had been paid to make up for money lost when the state abolished taxes on inventory and stocks.


Fred Taylor, Reporter
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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