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Morning Memo: Cooper's unofficial debut; peek inside GOP voters' minds

ROY COOPER'S DEBUT: Attorney General Roy Cooper is the featured speaker Saturday morning at the N.C. Democratic Party's Western Gala. The speech at the women's breakfast will serve as his unofficial debut in the 2016 governor's race. In recent weeks, Cooper has made his intentions to run clear and the event will give him a platform to begin gathering Democratic support as other party challengers emerge. Later in the evening, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and R.T. Rybak, the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will speak at the party fundraiser.

***A must-read analysis of Republicans and its potential impact on the N.C. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

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.***

Morning Memo: The recasting of Gov. McCrory? Unraveling his shifts

PAT McCRORY LINKS MEDICAID REFORMS TO TEACHER PAY HIKES -- Governor pledges big announcement in coming months: Speaking at the Cary Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet Wednesday evening, Gov. Pat McCrory promised "controversial" proposals to change the state's Medicaid system. Overruns in Medicaid costs are a huge burden on the state and have drained funding for education, he said.

Citing issues with federal regulations, "a lack of waivers from the feds, and frankly, some of the politics within Raleigh here," McCrory said he wanted to change the state's implementation of the federal health program for people with low income.

"I'm going to have to bring up some fairly controversial proposals to change Medicaid, or we're going to continue to have some very, very serious issues here in North Carolina," McCrory told the crowd. "That's coming in the next three, four months. I'll probably introduce them while the legislature's out of town, between now and May," he said, drawing laughs. Changes to Medicaid, he said are " the way we're going to get raises to the teachers."

***McCrory appears to be charting a new course, but the administration is backtracking on a different education announcement. Read it all below in today's Dome Morning Memo***

Politicians, advocates react strongly to GOP budget plan

The Republican-crafted $20.6 billion state budget is eliciting strong reactions from across the North Carolina political spectrum. Much of it focuses on the education funding changes. One person yet to respond: Gov. Pat McCrory. But in the meantime, check out a roundup of statements below.

--Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt: “With this budget and last week’s tax bill, we can clearly see the Republican agenda: hoarding power in Raleigh and cutting vital services to the middle class in order to pay for massive handouts to the wealthiest 1% and out-of-state corporations. This is ‘big-government’ conservatism that prioritizes power over people and special interests and the super-wealthy over middle class families."

AFP launches radio ad backing Senate tax plan

As the House and Senate hammer out a tax plan, Americans for Prosperity is taking to the radio airwaves to try to influence the negotiations.

The tea party group's state chapter announced Thursday that it is putting about $100,000 behind a new statewide radio ad campaign (Listen Here.) to encourage residents to support the Senate version. The minute-long radio spot touts the flat 5.25 percent personal income tax in the Senate bill compared to the 5.9 percent in the House plan. It uses a sports metaphor to warn that "some leaders are about to fumble" the tax ball with "only a few seconds left in the game."

Dallas Woodhouse, the state director, said it's part of AFP's pledge to spend $500,000 to push tax reform.

Tea party group picks sides, backs Senate tax bill

An influential tea party group is picking sides in the ongoing tax debate in Raleigh. Americans for Prosperity is urging state lawmakers to back the Senate's plan -- instead of a competing House bill.

The Senate will take a final vote Tuesday on its tax overhaul and send it back to the House. AFP wants the House to concur and abandon its own plan, which the Senate mostly discarded.

“The quickest way to achieve the strongest possible tax relief and reform is for the House to concur to the Senate changes to House Bill 998," said Dallas Woodhouse, the group's North Carolina director, in a prepared statement. "We encourage the House to take this bold step to pass significant tax relief and reform that will get North Carolina back in the game for jobs and business.”

Conservative group hits Kay Hagan, touts Thom Tillis

Americans for Prosperity is targeting Democrat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in a new web ad about renewable energy at the same time the conservative organization touts Republican Thom Tillis on taxes.

Tillis, the House speaker, announced last week his intentions to challenge Hagan an filed campaign papers this week.

The timing of the two ad campaigns is coincidental, said Dallas Woodhouse, the group's North Carolina director. "They have nothing to do with each other," he said.

AFP ad touts 'new day' of GOP leadership, tax efforts

Americans for Prosperity launched the first phase of its campaign to support Republican lawmakers efforts to rewrite the state's tax code. In a new TV ad, it describes "a new day " in North Carolina politics, urging viewers to "encourage our new leaders to keep going" and sign a petition supporting a tax overhaul.

Dallas Woodhouse, the AFP state director, declined to provide additional details on the TV buy for the ad, titled "Back in the Game." But he said it is appearing on cable channels across the state and some broadcast channels. AFP has promised to put $500,000 into supporting the plan -- and public polling and anecdotal interviews suggest a skeptical public needs a good bit of convincing.

Morning Memo: Commerce pushes overhaul, dueling tax campaigns emerge

SECRETARY TO PITCH COMMERCE PRIVATIZATION PLAN: Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker will appear before a House panel Wednesday to pitch Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to privatize elements of the state's economic recruitment effort. Decker sent a memo to lawmakers with the talking points about the N.C. Economic Development Corporation a day earlier. She highlighted the efficiencies that McCrory's administration believes will be realized by consolidating various existing entities, including the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, some of the N.C. Biotechnology Center and the tourism and film offices, among others, in a private nonprofit entity led by political appointees. She will describe a phase-in approach in her testimony. McCrory's team drafted the outline for the private-public partnership -- funded mostly by taxpayer dollars -- before he ever took office. Tony Almeida, the governor's top economic adviser who will lead the effort, wrote a white paper, finalized in December, as a member of McCrory's transition team that laid out the vision. (More below.)

DUELING TAX CAMPAIGNS: Americans for Prosperity began airing a TV ad on cable and broadcast that touts Republican leaders commitment to a tax overhaul. Meanwhile, the Young Democrats will debut an effort Wednesday to criticize the Senate plan with a web ad highlighting the hike in grocery taxes and and a new website nctaxhike.com, which is designed to counter Senate Republicans nctaxcut.com. Check Dome later today to see both.

***More North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo -- including a rundown on the day's top stories.

Morning Memo: Expect a late night at legislature as bills fly fast

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The action starts early Tuesday and will likely stretch past 10 p.m. again. The House and Senate plan to convene a skeletal session just before 10 a.m. to read in committee reports, then recess until 2 p.m. House Speaker Thom Tillis said the session will go until 5:15 p.m. or so before a dinner recess for committee meetings. The chamber will reconvene at 7 p.m. and go late. The Senate isn't expected to stay as long but its calendar is getting crowded. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events.

McCRORY'S OFFICE WON'T RELEASE DAILY SCHEDULE ANYMORE: The governor's Communications Director Kim Genardo is changing the office's policy of releasing a daily calendar. Genardo said if there is no event scheduled, she won't send out a notice stating as much, meaning some days will have no notice to the governor's schedule. McCrory pledged to release a daily schedule during the gubernatorial campaign as he bashed his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, for taking a "secret" trip to Pennsylvania to study fracking rigs. Republicans jumped on McCrory's Democratic opponent for not pledging to do the same. “Everyone knew where I was as mayor,” McCrory said a year ago. “My records were open."

***A busy week means lots of news below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send more news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. ****

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