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Morning Memo: Senate budget on the table

SENATE BUDGET TIME: The state Senate released a $20.58 billion proposed budget late Sunday night that would eliminate class-size limits for the youngest public school students, move the State Bureau of Investigation to a department the governor’s appointee controls and puts various environmental programs under the control of a state agency. The proposal represents a 2.3 percent increase over the current budget and is about $17 million short of the budget Gov. Pat McCrory proposed in March.

Senate budget writers will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. to discuss it in more detail. Full Senate votes are expected later this week. More here.

NCGA PROTESTERS CHALLENGE CHARGES: As protesters gear up to assemble again Monday to highlight concerns about welfare cuts, health care funding, voting rights, racial justice, tax reform, environmental deregulation, workers rights and more, legal analysts are raising questions about whether the General Assembly police are within their power to arrest the nonviolent demonstrators. Irv Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University who has observed the demonstrations, said legal challenges of the arrests are being drafted. “We think we have clear-cut First Amendment issues,” Joyner said. Full story.

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TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Attorney General Roy Cooper will hold a news conference in his office at 11 a.m. to make a pitch to keep the State Bureau of Investigation in his agency and independent of the executive branch. The Senate is considering transferring it to the state Department of Public Safety in the budget.

Later this afternoon, after Senate leaders preview their budget plan, Senate appropriations subcommittees meet at 4 p.m. to give it more scrutiny. No changes are expected until the full appropriations meeting Tuesday.

The House will convene at noon, but no votes are expected in the skeleton session. The joint program evaluation committee meets at 2 p.m.

Gov. Pat McCrory is visiting eastern North Carolina, touring downtown Elizabeth City at noon before making an economic development announcement at 2 p.m. in Garysburg.

Also: The trial for former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, Kinston Republican, starts today.

MOFFITT JOINS ALEC BOARD: Fresh from the Oklahoma City conference, another North Carolina lawmaker will become a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council board of directors. Rep. Tim Moffitt joins House Speaker Thom Tillis as an ALEC leader. Also, former Rep. Harold Brubaker, now a lobbyist, remains a board chairman emeritus from his days on the ALEC board years ago. Moffitt is an Asheville Republican.

HOUSE TAX PLAN BENEFITS QUESTIONED: The N.C. Budget and Tax Center is challenging House GOP leaders' assertion that most everyone will receive a tax cut on their proposal. From their preliminary analysis of the bill: "The results show that the combined effect of increasing reliance on the sales tax while cutting income taxes will mean 80 percent of the taxpayers will carry an increased tax load compared to the state’s current system.  Moreover, 35 percent of the income tax cuts go to taxpayers earning on average $940,000.

"It is clear that the richest taxpayers benefit under this plan while the low- and middle-income taxpayers will experience a greater tax load.   In particular, older North Carolinians with income below  $19,500 or those with medical expenses, middle class households with dependents older than 16, and heads of households with no children will be among the hardest hit." The center is a group pushing for tax reform but opposes much of the Republican legislative agenda.

BLUE CROSS AT ODDS WITH LAWMAKERS: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is used to having considerable clout in the legislature. Although the state’s largest health insurer hasn’t always gotten its way, for years it has negotiated behind the scenes to mold bills more to the company’s liking. All that’s changed. Blue Cross has seen bills fly out of committee with its wishes ignored repeatedly this session. Full story.

COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN SPOTLIGHT: Momentum is building in North Carolina to better train workers for more sophisticated manufacturing jobs to erase a so-called skills gap in the workforce. At a Raleigh summit Friday hosted by the N.C. Community College System, business, government and education leaders brainstormed ways to pump up training and education programs to meet the state’s reawakening manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, at a separate event in Apex, a Triangle consortium of businesses and private schools launched an engineering apprenticeship program for high school students. North Carolina’s unemployment rate finally dropped below 9 percent in April, but it is still stubbornly high compared with other states; at the same time, some employers can’t find workers with the right kind of skills to fill today’s increasingly technical jobs. Full story.

GUN DATA BILL SURVIVES: One of the only surviving bills in the N.C. General Assembly related to gun control would close permit information to the public, making it nearly impossible for groups to watchdog how the government issues licenses to buy hundreds of thousands of handguns. The bill to seal the permit records, however, passed the House nearly two months ago and seems headed for approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, lawmakers said. Full story.

GOT TO BE N.C. A stroller-filled crowd descended upon the State Fairgrounds on Sunday, despite a few rain showers, for the annual Got to Be NC Festival. The weekend’s off-and-on wet dampened attendance at the festival that is designed to promote North Carolina agriculture, food, wine and, for the first time this year, beer. Full story.

TEA PARTY LOOKS TO REGROUP: From national AP -- Is the tea party getting its groove back? Shouts of vindication from around the country suggest the movement's leaders certainly think so. They say the IRS acknowledgement that it had targeted their groups for extra scrutiny - a claim that tea party activists had made for years - is helping pump new energy into the coalition. And they are trying to use that development, along with the ongoing controversy over the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks and the Justice Department's secret seizure of journalists' phone records, to recruit new activists incensed about government overreach. Full story.


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