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Morning Memo: Fracking board under fire, Letterman takes shot at 'Dick' Burr

ENERGY COMPANY THWARTS FRACKING RULE: After more than six months of congenial meetings, the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission was set to approve its first fracking rule Friday, perhaps the most important of all the safety rules the commission will write to protect the public and safeguard the environment. The standard spells out which chemicals fracking operators have to publicly disclose when drilling natural gas wells in North Carolina.

But commissioners learned Thursday the proposal they had approved in committee in March is on ice. The problem: Fracking giant Halliburton has told North Carolina’s environmental regulators the rule goes too far. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is working to get the rule changed.

The developments raise questions about the independence and integrity of the Mining & Energy Commission, a panel created by the state legislature last year to create safety rules for shale gas exploration. Fracking refers to fracturing shale rock formations using high-pressure water and chemicals to release the natural gas trapped inside. Full story.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis from the North Carolina political arena below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Morning Memo: McCrory, Foxx square off as legislature takes fast track

UPDATED: IS IT MAYOR PAT OR GOVERNOR PAT? Gov. Pat McCrory told two city of Charlotte staff members this week that state money for the light-rail extension to UNC Charlotte could be at risk if the city builds a controversial streetcar, according to a memo sent Thursday. Without the N.C. Department of Transportation’s $250 million grant, the $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line extension can’t be built. As Charlotte mayor, McCrory, a Republican, championed light rail, which was one of his signature accomplishments. But he vehemently disagrees with using city property tax dollars to build a streetcar, and used the meeting in Raleigh to relay a message to City Council, according to the memo.

FOXX 'OUTRAGED' OVER WHAT HE CALLS A THREAT: “It’s particularly alarming that he would choose to deliver messages to city staff, particularly messages that contain threats," said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat and potential challenger to McCrory in 2016. “He is governor of the state, and there are a host of issues – tax reform, health care. Why the governor would choose to place focus on a transit project, particularly one contained in a transit plan that he voted to implement makes no sense,” Foxx said.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo a tipsheet on N.C. politics. Click "Read More" for other headlines and news.***

Clean energy group asks Cooper to review Duke Energy settlement

A Durham advocacy group has asked attorney general Roy Cooper to investigate whether Duke Energy and the N.C. Utilities Commission engaged in illegal “backroom deal-making” during talks to settle the Duke-Progress Energy merger probe.

Duke CEO Jim Rogers told the Observer this month that he negotiated the settlement terms, working with commission Chairman Edward Finley. The agreement, approved in December, ended an investigation into the firing of former Progress chief executive Bill Johnson to lead the combined companies.

N.C. WARN, a clean-energy group that has complained of unwarranted secrecy surrounding the merger, says the contact between Rogers and Finley apparently violated a state law against private communication between commissioners and the parties to a case.

Morning Memo: Tax plan details emerge, N.C. sheriff won't enforce gun orders

TODAY'S BIG STORY: Republican lawmakers outlined a proposal Wednesday to revamp the state’s tax system, offering a slew of reforms that would radically shift the tax burden in North Carolina. The proposal would eliminate personal and corporate income taxes in exchange for higher state sales taxes levied against groceries, medical expenses and other currently tax-free services.

SUPPORTERS SAY: Senate leader Phil Berger said the moves are necessary to modernize the state’s tax code and kick-start a struggling economy. He pointed to the state’s tax rates, saying the current 6.9 percent corporate tax rate and 7.75 percent personal tax rate for the highest earners are among the highest the region. “It is important for us in terms of our competitive posture with other states,” the Republican from Eden told reporters. “It is important for us in terms of making sure there is a fair allocation of the cost of government.”

CRITICS SAY: Critics caution that the proposals represent a fundamental change in who pays the state’s tax burden, and economists said that low-income people would feel the brunt. “For this particular proposal, the responsibility would shift from rich households and prosperous corporations to poor households and smaller businesses,” Dave Ribar, a professor at UNC-Greensboro, concluded in his analysis of the proposal.

***You are reading the Dome Morning Memo, the source for all his North Carolina politics. Much more below.***

Morning Roundup: N.C. companies prepare for the fiscal cliff

Some North Carolina companies are joining a growing number of U.S. firms paying out early dividends before the end of the year, as tax increases on dividends are seen as likely in 2013.

Dividend tax rates were reduced to 15 percent under the Bush-era tax cuts. But that rate is scheduled to expire in January, and taxes would likely then rise – although no one knows exactly how much yet. Full story here.

More political headlines:

--Four hundred people are expected at a forum Friday in Charlotte about the gridlock in Washington.

Who is on the hook for the DNC debt?

It’s been exactly two months since the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The delegates are long gone, but there’s still about $10 million in debt and unpaid obligations incurred by the Charlotte in 2012 host committee.

The biggest bill to pay: A loan of $7.9 million against a line of credit guaranteed by Duke Energy. So will Charlotte’s host committee pay off the loan? Or will Duke shareholders be on the hook for it?

Obama supporter Jim Rogers hosts fundraiser for Speaker Tillis

As co-chair the Charlotte Host Committee, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers was in some ways a face of the Democratic National Convention. He also arranged Duke's $10 million line of credit and gave $10,000 to Barack Obama's campaign.

Now he's helping one of North Carolina's top Republicans. Rogers is hosting a fundraiser at his Eastover home for House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius. Tillis expects to use the money to help elect other Republicans to the state House, where he's trying to build a "super-majority."

--Jim Morrill, Observer staff writer

A parade of speakers warm the crowd for the president

Capping a run of speakers who aimed at young people, Caroline Kennedy tried to made the case that the youth enthusiasm that helped propel Barack Obama in 2008 should continue to this year's campaign. "Back then, I was inspired by the promise of Barack Obama's presidency," she said. "Today, I'm inspired by his record."

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords slowly made her way to the center of the stage Thursday to lead the convention hall in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Unsteady on her feet and in her speech, Giffords received by far the loudest ovation of the evening before blowing kisses to the crowd chanting "Gabby, Gabby, Gabby!" (Read more below and click here for continuous updates.)

State House candidate calls for Rogers to resign from Duke

Mark Bibbs, a N.C.House candidate from Wilson, said Duke CEO Jim Rogers should resign.

“We have witnessed the biggest single merger fiasco in our state's history,” said Bibbs, a Democrat. “Mr. Rogers and his leadership team at Duke Energy have misled the people of North Carolina, he has mislead the N.C. Utilities Commission, he has misled the N.C. Attorney General, he has misled his shareholders and he has misled his ratepayers.

“He should resign his position so the people of North Carolina will know that he has been held accountable for this breach in faith and trust,” Bibbs said.


Morning Roundup: Charlotte mayor skirts questions about DNC fundraising

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx skirted questions about media reports of lackluster fundraising for the Democratic National Convention at a political conference on Tuesday. Foxx and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the mayoral hosts of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, joined Politico’s Mike Allen at the Newseum in Washington to talk about preparations. More here.

More political headlines:

--The political battle over the state’s redistricting maps reached the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, and the justices lobbed question after question about why specific documents generated by outside lawyers during the process should be public or confidential.

--North Carolina adopted a cellphone ban for teen drivers in 2006, but a recently published study shows that many teens ignore the law and more are engaging in the hazardous practice of texting and driving.

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