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 (WRAL)— Nearly 1 million state employees count on North Carolina’s $96 billion pension fund for their retirements. But paying state retirees what they’re owed means facing the long-term challenges of keeping the fund solvent.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, whose agency manages the fund, has followed through on his campaign promise to slash millions in outside management fees. His decision to cash out and transfer funds to low-earning, short-term accounts, however, drew heat from some pension observers.

“Some of the critics of what we’ve done this year are the very people who’ve put us in some of these investments,” Folwell said.

CPA and financial advisor Ron Elmer, a former Democratic candidate for treasurer, said he actually supports the Republican’s fee-cutting mission.

“I liked what he was doing. I liked what he was trying to do,” Elmer said. “Could that have been done a little more efficiently? Probably.”

Elmer and others argue parking transfer funds in a savings account, while safe, cost the pension serious earnings as the market rose.

“Tens of millions at least,” Elmer said.

With aging retirees, a mounting problemStill, Elmer said he appreciates the mounting challenge Folwell faces.

The North Carolina pension is commonly branded one of the best funded in the country. But it still must pay out $500 million a month – $6 billion a year.

“It’s one of those things you can’t really brag about, because it’s basically saying the fire in my house is smaller than yours,” Elmer said.

State government and employees only pay in about half what the fund pays out, so investment earnings are crucial.

In the mid 1970s, about 250 people drawing state pensions were aged 90 and above. Today, there are close to 7,000. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s no minimum retirement age.

The latest statistics as of December 2016 show nearly 100,000 pensioners are under 65. That accounts for nearly one-third of state retirees who earn pension checks.

“Fees have gone up, payouts have gone up, life expectancy has gone up and interest rates have gone down,” Folwell said. “That’s what I inherited.”

Folwell also inherited and managed a fund that performed at 10.8 percent in the last fiscal year, nearly 2 percentage points less than the national public pension average. He’s also handcuffed by $10 billion in contracts that managers haven’t even invested yet.

Raise the age?

In addition to trimming the more than $600 million in outside annual fees, some feel it’s time to consider raising the retirement age.

“As age goes up, the working life should go up as well, I would think,” Elmer said.

Ardis Watkins, director of government relations for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, isn’t so sure. She said public workers sacrificed enough – while outside money managers cashed in.

“It might sound good. It might even be well intentioned, but it’s not going to solve any problems,” Watkins said. “The only thing that solves problems is to stop giving huge amounts of money away in multiple levels of fees to investment managers.”

That’s Folwell’s philosophy. But he says his ongoing challenge is bigger.

“At the end of the day, our job is to preserve, strengthen and sustain the state pension plan as keepers of the public purse,” Folwell said.

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NRA accuses gun-control advocates of exploiting FL shooting



WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of the National Rifle Association on Thursday accused gun control advocates of exploiting the deadly Florida school shooting, striking a defiant tone amid a renewed debate over guns and school safety.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, in his first public comments since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, said NRA members mourn for the Florida victims but at the same time issued a searing indictment of gun control proponents for attempting to “exploit tragedy for political gain.”

“They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom,” LaPierre said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, near the nation’s capital.

LaPierre addressed the conservative activists shortly before President Donald Trump held a listening session with state and local leaders on gun safety at the White House.

The president said he had spoken to NRA leaders and expressed optimism that the nation’s most prominent gun-owners organization would support his calls for raising the federal minimum age for buying or possessing certain weapons, enhancing background checks, addressing mental illness and banning the sale of bump stock devices.

NRA leaders did not address whether the federal government should raise the age requirement for young adults to buy weapons. A day earlier, the organization issued a statement saying it opposes raising the age limit.

“Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” LaPierre said. “The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous.”

LaPierre said Democrats such as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut were eagerly blaming the NRA. He also assailed the FBI for failing to follow up on warnings about the school shooter.

“Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free,” LaPierre said of gun control advocates. “They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America’s mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI.”

The longtime face of the NRA was preceded on stage by the group’s spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, a prominent conservative radio host. She accused media outlets of focusing heavily on school shootings involving white and affluent neighborhoods instead of those occurring in inner cities.

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings, you guys love it,” Loesch said. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”

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Trump says raise age for buying assault rifles, defying NRA



WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation should keep assault rifles out of the hands of anyone under 21, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, defying his loyal supporters in the National Rifle Association amid America’s public reckoning over gun violence. He also pushed hard for arming security guards and many teachers in U.S. schools.

“There’s nothing more important than protecting our children,” Trump said, adding that he’d spoken with many members of Congress and NRA officials and insisting they would go along with his plans in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

But there were no words of support from the NRA for his minimum-age proposal — and outright opposition from organizations of teachers and school security guards for the idea of arming schools to deal with intruders.

“The NRA will back it and so will Congress,” Trump contended as he called for raising the legal age of purchase for “all” guns from 18 to 21. A spokesman later said Trump was speaking specifically about semi-automatic weapons. The president’s proposal came just hours after the NRA affirmed its opposition, calling such a restriction an infringement on gun owners’ rights.

Trump has spent the past two days listening to ideas about how to stem gun violence at schools after last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday, he heard from students and family members of those killed in recent shootings and on Thursday from local and state officials.

In Florida, meanwhile, funerals continued. And a sheriff’s deputy who had been on duty at the school but never went inside to confront the shooter resigned after being suspended without pay.

Trump has been proposing a growing list of ideas, including more stringent background checks for gun buyers, reopening some mental institutions to hold potential killers and banning “bump stock” devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

He said Thursday that many teachers have military experience and suggested they be paid bonuses for the added responsibility of carrying weapons. He also appeared open to other proposals to “harden” schools, such as fortifying walls and limiting entry points.

One idea he didn’t like: the “active shooter” drills that some schools hold. He called that “a very negative thing” and said he wouldn’t want his own son participating.

Spokesman Raj Shah later said Trump was concerned about the name and would prefer calling them safety drills.

In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he now is open to raising age requirements for long-gun purchases. That was the day after he was confronted at a CNN town hall by Parkland students and parents over his pro-gun votes and support from the NRA.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, another Republican, told reporters during a visit to the Kansas Statehouse that he supported raising age requirements, saying: “Certainly, nobody under 21 should have an AR-15.”

NRA leaders emerged in unannounced appearances at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, blaming the FBI and local reporting failures for the Florida shooting.

“Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” said Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. “The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous.”

NRA officials also accused Democrats and media outlets of exploiting the Florida shooting.

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” spokeswoman Dana Loesch said at CPAC. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”

She and LaPierre did not mention the age requirement issue in their fiery remarks at CPAC. But Loesch said Wednesday night the NRA opposes the higher minimum age for rifles because, “if we are asking young men and women to go and serve their country (in the military) they should be able to also have a firearm.”

She added, “I’m also thinking of young women” who may need a rifle for self-protection.

The NRA was an early supporter of Trump’s campaign, and it remains unclear how far the president will go to cross them.

Shortly before LaPierre took the stage, Trump offered a rallying cry on Twitter, calling NRA leaders “Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing.”

“I don’t think I’ll be going up against them,” he said of the politically influential group. “I really think the NRA wants to do what’s right.”

In Congress, a bill being drafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would apply more broadly than just to assault rifles such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shootings. It would raise the age requirements for all rifles.

In the end, Trump did not stray too far from conservative Republican orthodoxy. His focus when it comes to background checks is on mental health concerns and not loopholes that permit loose private gun sales on the internet and at gun shows. And he remains opposed to a full ban on assault rifles, Shah said.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was skeptical the president would follow though.

“The last time he showed support for sensible gun reform — no fly, no buy — he quickly dropped his support once the NRA opposed it. I hope this time will be different,” Schumer said in a statement, referring to a measure backed by Democrats to prevent people on a terrorism-related “no fly” list from buying guns.

Indeed, it is not clear that the GOP-controlled Congress, which is in recess, will take up or act on a variety of legislative proposals that have been made to address gun violence. Those include measures to expand federal background checks, allow authorities to issue emergency orders to take guns from people identified as a threat to themselves or others, and raise the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21.

The current federal minimum for buying handguns from registered dealers is 21, but the requirement in most places is 18 for rifles, including assault-type weapons such as the AR-15. In some states — mostly rural states with a strong tradition of hunting — young people can buy a rifle at age 14 or 16.

Polls show growing support for gun control measures, including 97-percent backing for universal background checks in a Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday.

But recent mass shootings, including the 2012 mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, and the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas last fall, have not resulted in significant legislation. In fact, a bill passed by the House in December would make it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

Still, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla, said the president has a “unique ability right now to maybe really do something about these school shootings” because, at least in some districts, “nobody is more popular,” including the NRA.

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Questions continue to mount about Walter Scott’s Candidacy



After our last Sheriff’s race update, an additional source close to the Scott campaign has come forward to News In Onslow with new details – and some questions – about his background and fitness for the Sheriff’s Office.

Our source has told us that Walter Scott, a veteran of Desert Storm, was never actually an Army Ranger. He did serve in Desert Storm and came home with some injuries. His service, however, is reputed to be as a truck driver, instead of a front lines veteran. This begs the question, has some history been embellished by Scott?

Sheriff Candidate, Walter Scott

Law enforcement experience appears to be another point of concern. Walter Scott made the rounds in Onslow County asserting his role in the Sheriff’s Office as a “public relations officer” under former Sheriff Ed Brown. So what does a Public Relations Officer do? Well, not collect a paycheck. Our source has told us that Walter served only in a volunteer capacity, and has virtually no experience in law enforcement. The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t appear to ever employ Walter Scott in any position beyond volunteer.

It’s speculated, but so far unconfirmed, that Walter Scott could not be paid as an employee due to his long-term collection of disability benefits stemming from his military service. The same injuries that our source has told us left Walter Scott hooked on Opioids for several years, until he suddenly cleaned himself up.

That leads to another meaningful question: is Walter Scott willing to give up that same disability pension to serve as an elected and paid Sheriff of Onslow?

Finally, Scott is quoted by our source as stating, “I’m going to be the Sheriff of Iredell County, or Onslow. I don’t care which”, a remark that casts serious doubt about his loyalty to the community, and how exactly he plans to balance that with his own ego.

We have yet to see any official websites or information put out by the Scott campaign. Perhaps Scott will address his biography and experiences in some detail that provides clarity to the voters, but that so far remains unseen!


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