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Speaker Tillis, 100 House lawmakers sign letter opposing Catawba casino

House Speaker Thom Tillis and more than 100 House lawmakers signed a letter Tuesday to oppose a potential Catawba Nation casino in North Carolina.

The letter is directed to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in an effort to block the South Carolina tribe's efforts to acquire lands to establish a gaming operation north of the state line. The federal agency must take the lands into a trust for gaming to occur on the land.

The Catawba's are exploring land in Cleveland County along Interstate 85 for a potential gaming facility that could include Las Vegas-styled live dealers and slot machines. Local officials are touting it as an economic development effort and a top official in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration visited the site earlier this year.

Morning Memo: NCGA studies Colo. school choice; DHHS execs see pay bump

NCGA STAFF EXAMINES COLORADO SCHOOL CHOICE: Three employees of the General Assembly went to Douglas County, Colo., for nearly a week in June to examine that county’s school funding model and determine the feasibility of trying something similar in North Carolina.

The Douglas County school district, the third largest in Colorado, is known for its emphasis on school choice and has pursued major – and often controversial – education reforms in recent years. Read more here.

***Get a full wrap on North Carolina political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

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."

McCrory administration's unemployment memo decried by Democrats

Gov. Pat McCrory's administration held a meeting with aides to state lawmakers this week to distribute talking points about the expiration of federal unemployment benefits at the end of the month.

Democratic state lawmakers are crying foul, saying they didn't know about the meeting and objected to the McCrory administration distributing "political talking points" to spin a situation it created.

“It’s clear that high-level officials in the McCrory administration recognized the harm of their policies to struggling families and sought to minimize political damage by influencing legislative staff without the knowledge of their employers," Nesbitt said in a statement. "This is about open-government and accountability. If you supported a bill that’s unpopular, you should admit it, not hide from it."

In a letter to McCrory on Wednesday, Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt and House Democratic leader Larry Hall said lawmakers are free to respond to constituents at their discretion "without undue outside influence or intimidation of our employees."

Document(s):
NesbittHallletter.pdf

N.C. House Dems blast voucher plan

House Democrats panned the plan to offer parents vouchers send their children to private schools, saying it was an irresponsible use of tax money and a step in dismantling public schools.

Voucher supporters are advancing a bill that would offer $4,200 a year in taxpayer money to parents of low-income children who move them from public to private schools. Supporters say poor parents deserve the same options wealthier parents have in choosing schools for their children.

But Democrats on Wednesday said that poor parents, even with vouchers, will not be able to afford the state's top private schools. Some charge annual tuition of $10,000 and more.

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.

Groups push for legislation to help poor

Advocacy groups for the poor and the state AFL-CIO are pushing state legislators to take action to help unemployed workers and ease the impact of a new law that will significantly reduce jobless benefits.

The groups held a press briefing Monday morning to promote four bills that have been introduced in the legislature – none of which have been voted out of committee so far. Moreover, just one of the bills lists a Republican as a primary sponsor, a major negative given that both the House and Senate are controlled by the GOP.

MaryBe McMillan of the state AFL-CIO said that the “most urgent” of the bills, HB 922, would push back implementation of the state’s new system of unemployment benefits from July 1 to Jan. 1, 2014. More from the presser here.

Morning Memo: Pray-in targets lawmakers, Foxx to join Obama administration

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AT LEGISLATURE: Clergy and students will participate in an act of civil disobedience Monday at the Legislative Building "in response to the collective acts of the legislature," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP. The action, from 5 p.m.- 6 p.m., will be a "form of a pray-in," Barber said. The House convenes at 4 p.m., the Senate at 7 p.m. The NAACP has opposed the legislative actions reducing unemployment benefits, state House approval of photo voter ID, and other legislative measures.

FOXX TO TAKE OBAMA POST: President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Mayor Anthony Foxx to be secretary of transportation, a White House official said Sunday on the condition of anonymity. The nomination of Foxx, whose city hosted last year’s Democratic National Convention, would make him the only African-American selected for a Cabinet opening in Obama’s second term. (More below.)

***Good morning. Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- a full roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below. ***

Democrats line up to whack GOP legislature

The Democrats played whack a mole with the GOP legislature at the Jefferson Jackson Day fund raising dinner at the Raleigh Convention Center Saturday night.

U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan of Massachusetts, a North Carolina native, said he could not believe some of the legislative proposals coming from the GOP legislature effecting voting. “Lincoln would be ashamed of this party,” said Cowan, one of two African-Americans serving in the Senate. Cowan said he had a hard time recognizing the state where he was born and raised during the past two years. “What is going in North Carolina?''

Congressman David Price: Criticized the legislature for not extending Medicaid health benefits to 500,000 North Carolinians and 80,000 residents will lose their unemployment benefits. “The forces of reaction have taken over state government temporarily – with a vengeance,” Price said.

House Democratic Leader Larry Hall: The Republicans should take all their legislation, wrap into one bill – call it “the 19th century omnibus bill” pass it and everyone can go home.

Teacher tenure bill moves swiftly through House committee

A bipartisan House bill that would change the state's teacher tenure law moved swiftly through the House Education committee Tuesday.

The bill would allow veteran teachers to keep tenure, though they would lose it with two consecutive years of poor performance. Teachers with four years experience who are rated "highly effective" would be granted tenure.

The House bill is on a collision course with a Senate bill that abolishes teacher tenure.

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