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Business ratings applaud Republican lawmakers

North Carolina Republican lawmakers earned high marks in a new business friendly rating issued by an interest group.

The N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, a business-backed research organization, gave House Republicans, on average, the strongest marks, rating at 87 on their 100-point scale. Senate Republicans were at 81. Democrats in each chamber received ratings below 45.

Morning Memo: Another DHHS hire raises questions; FEC chides Tillis camp

ANOTHER HIRE RAISES QUESTIONS AT DHHS -- Unadvertised job goes to former tea party member: The state Department of Health and Human Services has filled a newly created $95,000 senior planner position with a Greenville woman who was a medical school lecturer for three years but who has been absent from the health care labor force since 2002.

Margaret "Mardy" Peal, 42, has been hired as part of the "Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina," Gov. Pat McCrory’s initiative to allow private insurance companies to run the government’s health care program for the poor in North Carolina.

Peal gave $1,250 to the McCrory campaign in 2012. She helped organize the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party in 2010. The job was not posted, which prevented others from applying. Department officials declined to provide a job description or list Peal’s duties. Read more here.

***More on Peal and news from the U.S. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Republicans blasted for last-minute election bill

UPDATE: The Senate Rules Committee approved the measure, with some amendments, sending it to the floor for a vote. House Speaker Thom Tillis also told reporters he supports the bill -- meaning it is likely to become law if Gov. Pat McCrory doesn't object. McCrory didn't answer questions Tuesday.

Hours before a Senate panel considers a bill redefining how people vote, advocacy groups planted pink flamingos in the statehouse's front lawn to suggest the rewrite will lead to the same long voting lines and problems that plagued the 2012 election in Florida.

Senate Republican leaders are planning to take a voter ID bill and add provision that cut early voting by a week, repeal same-day registration, allows counties to limit Sunday voting, ends pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and ends straight-ticket voting. (See bill below.)

Other provisions increase the maximum donation to political candidates from $4,000 to $5,000, with future increases indexed to inflation, and limit disclosure of money spent by outside political groups that air political TV ads and send mass mailings.


Art Pope key legislative ambassador but not subject to reporting rules

State Budget Director Art Pope is becoming a frequent face at the N.C. General Assembly, especially as spending and tax issue dominate the final weeks.

At Gov. Pat McCrory’s direction, Pope crafted a compromise tax scenario in June that combined House and Senate ideas and presented it to a few House lawmakers. He worked the legislative halls and attending meetings various other times. And he attended a Senate committee meeting June 30 when President Pro Tem Phil Berger debuted the latest bill to overhaul the tax code.

His actions raise questions about whether Pope should register as a McCrory administration legislative liaison.

Morning Memo: Abortion bill back on agenda; McCrory's misfire at Obama

ABORTION BILL IS 'CHRISTMAS IN JULY': The abortion bill resurfaces for discussion in the House on Tuesday after a vocal protest against it a day earlier. (More on Monday's demonstrations below.) So we know what critics say about the abortion bill, but what about supporters? Christian Action League's Rev. Mark Creech is asking proponents to "pray for Christmas in July." On the group's website, he writes: "In all my days, I have never seen a bill so full of good content. I have shared with my friends that the legislation is a veritable Christmas tree of beautiful lights and ornaments representing life, justice and other righteous principles. The only thing missing is the crowning star of final passage and the governor’s signature. For those of us who believe in faith, family, and freedom, this bill is Christmas in July."

McCRORY'S MISFIRE AT OBAMA: Gov. Pat McCrory sought to deflect blame for North Carolina's decision to curtail jobless benefits by pointing the finger Monday at President Barack Obama's administration. The problem is he pointed in the wrong direction. (Read more below.)

***Click below for details about the controversial abortion bill and more North Carolina political news and analysis in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Tax negotiations at deadlock, Senate moves forward alone

The Senate is moving ahead with its plans to cut taxes after negotiations with the House reached a deadlock.

Senate leader Phil Berger said a proposal introduced Monday in the Finance Committee is the final offer at a compromise. He said the new bill moves substantially toward the House's position on a number of issues, such as not taxing Social Security, allowing a limited real estate tax breaks and retaining local governments ability to impose privilege taxes.

But major differences remain. The Senate plan still phases out the corporate income tax, which the House lowers to 5.4 percent. The Senate plan also still caps nonprofit's ability to get a sales tax refund, which the House plan doesn't touch. It also phases out the state franchise tax and replaces it with a business privledge tax , which the House doesn't do.

Stop-gap budget up for discussion next week

Legislators will talk next week about passing a stop-gap budget that will allow the state to function past June 30 if there's no big budget agreement by then.

House Speaker Thom Tillis raised the possibility of a continuing resolution, or a CR, on Thursday.

The House and Senate passed $20.6 billion budgets, but they differ significantly in some details. And, the legislature cannot pass a budget before members agree on a new tax code.

"The tax reform numbers have implications for the budget," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and House budget writer.

A CR is "more likely than not," he said.

Exempt teachers from income tax, says State Supt. Atkinson

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said Monday she will recommend teachers be exempted from paying income taxes.

The tax exemption for charter school and traditional public school teachers would cost the state $300 million, according to her figures.

The House and Senate budget proposals do not include raises for teachers or state employees. Atkinson said she would not be making the recommendation if the legislature had provided for raises.

The House and Senate will negotiate changes in the state tax code this week. No proposal has included an income tax exemption for teachers.

Morning Memo: Common Core fight hits North Carolina, tax bill divides GOP

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House tax plan returns for an unscheduled stop in another committee Wednesday morning. Look for lawmakers to possibly strip a provision added the day before by Finance Committee Chairwoman Julia Howard to remove the cap on home-related tax deductions. Continuing the fast timeline, bill sponsor David Lewis said the measure could hit the floor this week. The bill to fast-track fracking will get a vote in a House committee at 10 a.m. The full House will take a final vote to repeal the Racial Justice Act and consider a bill to redraw the Wake County school district boundaries. The Senate will work through a lengthy calendar that includes two beer bills and a measure requiring biodegradable plastic bottles to carry certain wording on their labels.

LT. GOV LAUNCHES COMMON CORE FIGHT: On Tuesday, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest posted a nearly four-minute video on YouTube, titled “My Concerns with Common Core.” In it, he said he has serious qualms about the state’s “rush to implement” the K-12 standard. Common Core was rolled out in North Carolina’s classrooms last fall. Forest vowed a critical review starting Wednesday during orientation for new members of the State Board of Education, suggesting “perhaps a fresh set of eyes will give us reason to pause, and make sure our state looks, before we leap into the Common Core.” 

***Additional details on Common Core, Thom Tillis' U.S. Senate bid and much more below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

In quick, questionable vote, House panel approves tax bill

A House panel approved a sweeping tax bill Tuesday with a $1.5 billion price tag, rushing the vote so quickly it left many lawmakers stunned.

In an hour-long meeting, lawmakers discussed three amendments and never debated the actual bill to add a sales tax to numerous exempt services, such as car repairs, to pay for moderate cuts in the personal and corporate income tax rates – the biggest overhaul of the state’s tax system in at least a decade.

The rush, orchestrated by House GOP leaders, and a discussion that split political loyalties underscored the difficult path ahead for the top Republican legislative priority this session. The bill now moves to the full House but the consternation may prove inconsequential because it varies widely from a plan sponsored by Senate Republicans that further cuts taxes and extends the sales tax to even more services.

The one major change to the House plan approved by the Finance Committee eliminated caps on certain tax deductions and added roughly $500 million to the bill’s cost.

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