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Associated Press , Published September 30 2013

ND National Guard bracing for sting of budget battle

FARGO — State officials said Monday that the North Dakota National Guard is likely to bear the brunt of the looming government shutdown, but most agencies should be able to function normally if the budget battle in Congress is a short one.

Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the Guard commander, has scheduled a town hall meeting with members Tuesday morning, when he would have to tell about 430 of them to go home. The Guard has about 1,150 full-time employees, all but a handful who are paid by the federal government.

"Quite frankly, I'm disappointed that we're in this situation," Sprynczynatyk said. "It's very sad and tragic, in my opinion."

State Budget Director Pam Sharp said two other agencies that depend heavily on federal funding, the Department of Transportation and Job Service North Dakota, should be able to weather a brief shutdown. Many of the highway contracts are either already in place or funded by the state. Job Service has money to operate for three weeks to a month, Sharp said.

Sharp said the state can use general fund money to avoid many of the furloughs, with the hope it will be reimbursed by the federal government when it's back in operation. If the feds don't return the money, Sharp said, "We'll come up with a plan B."

Sprynczynatyk said the temporary layoffs would come on top of furloughs for military technicians in August when they were required to take off six days, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in pay.

"Now here we are again just a couple of months later, faced with the prospect of a government shutdown and 430 employees potentially being told they have to come home and not report to work," he said. "It has a tremendous impact on morale and it certainly makes people wonder, 'Why me?'"

The adjutant general said the Guard will continue to support soldiers and airmen who are deployed or training for missions. The unit will be available to respond to any state disaster, he said.

Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney in North Dakota, said a shutdown will force his department to operate with about half of its 43 full-time employees. He said most of the lawyers will continue to work on cases, including one trial scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but warned of "real consequences" from a prolonged shutdown.

"When you look at the battle we're in with our rising caseloads here, we're going to keep up the fight, but now we're going to do it with one hand tied behind our back," Purdon said.

Sharp said most citizens are unlikely to notice a drop in government services. Entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps will continue to be covered, she said.

"We are more comfortable in the fact that we have a lot of general fund authority, plenty of reserves and it's early in the biennium," Sharp said. "I think we're in the position where we should be able to deal with a shutdown, assuming it's not a long-term shutdown."

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