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Legislative committee will look at problems with NC FAST, NC TRACKS

A legislative committee will soon begin looking into problems with the state’s computer programs that allow Medicaid providers to be paid and provide food stamps for the needy.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Wednesday that a committee will take up the issues. He said that he has heard from medical practices and hospitals that they have had trouble getting their claims processed.

“It’s something we’re working through,” Berger told reporters after the Senate’s veto session.

The issue came up at the conclusion of the Senate session, when Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat from Asheville, brought up the controversy over a pair of high-paid DHHS employees, and complaints about the state’s NC FAST and NC TRACKS food stamps and Medicaid reimbursement computer systems.

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."

Oh yeah, and the NC Senate approved its tax bill too

Don't worry if you missed it, but the state Senate gave final approval to a major tax bill. The controversial abortion vote eclipsed the far-reaching measure to cut income taxes and restrict government spending.

Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville provided the lone point of debate before the vote Wednesday. He said he opposed the first tax bill the Senate approved and now this new one, saying Republicans "put a little lipstick on it."

"You are taxing the middle class and giving tax cuts to the rich," he said, exasperated but knowing the outcome was settled.

The Republican-dominated chamber approved it 29-14.

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."


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, which is designed to counter Senate Republicans 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.

Senate passes $20.6 billion budget on to House

The state Senate passed its $20.6 billion budget along party lines, moving the plan on to the House for consideration.

"This really is about the number one priority that you have for the state - to give a big tax cut to a few wealthy people," said Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Archdale Republican, said Democrats imposed sales tax increases paid by the poor. Those tax increases would still be around if Republicans hadn't eliminated them, Tillman said.

Republicans will "cut taxes and put in back in taxpayers' pockets so they can plan where to spend it," he said.

Morning Memo: Crossover week begins at #NCGA; Ben Carson to visit Raleigh

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session. Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Read more about the issues hanging in the balance this week at the legislature. And send news and tips to***

Senate passes bill creating charter school board

The state Senate passed a bill creating a separate regulatory board for charter schools by a vote of 32-17.

The charter school board would be responsible for handing out new charters and shutting down inadequate schools, diluting the State Board of Education's powers. State Board Chairman Bill Cobey opposes the bill and questions its constitutionality.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and the bill's sponsor, said charters give parents choice. "When you have a choice, the free market works," he said.

Democrats said Republicans were over reaching.

"Keep this up and you're going to destroy the very thing you're trying to promote," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Senate approves government web-only legal ads

The state Senate, with 26-22 vote, gave final approval to a bill that would give select local jurisdictions the option of foregoing publication of legal notices in newspapers in favor of posting them on their own government websites.

The bill would affect Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, most of Wake, and other counties and towns. The bill now goes to the House.

Government legal ads are an important source of income for newspapers, especially small, free community papers. Newspapers print zoning notices, new ordinances, lists of delinquent taxpayers, and post them on their websites.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, said the bill creates a confusing patchwork, where residents won't know where to look for government notices. More people read newspaper websites than government sites, he said.

"People are going to be less informed, and I think we're all going to be diminished because of it," said Nesbitt, the Senate minority leader.

Sen. Jim Davis, a Macon County Republican, said government payments shouldn't be part of the business model for newspapers. Local governments should have options for where to place their ads, he said.

"They know what's best for them," Davis said. "We don't in Raleigh."

Bill would kill deduction for parents whose kids vote at college

Several Republican senators have introduced a bill that would bar parents from claiming a tax deduction for a dependent child who registers to vote where he or she attends college.

“We are simply equalizing the playing field for all voters in our state,” said Senators Bill Cook of Chocowinity, Ronald Rabin of Spring Lake, and Norman Sanderson of Havelock, the bill's sponsor said in a statement.

Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville has criticized the measure. “Apparently the Republicans are turning to use the tax code to keep young people from voting at their poll of choice,” Nesbitt said.

Other Democrat's described it as a “poll tax,” because people would have to pay more taxes, based on where their children cast their ballots.

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