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Morning Memo: McCrory's taxing pledge; Tillis super PAC money questioned

TAX BILL NOW PUTS FOCUS ON McCRORY: Gov. Pat McCrory pledge in his campaign to make any tax overhaul revenue neutral. It was the only specific detail he offered and came under pressure from Democratic candidate Walter Dalton who warned such a tax bill, if not revenue neutral, could lead to huge cuts in government spending on popular services.

With legislative approval Wednesday, the two-billion tax bill goes to the governor. Will he meet his pledge, one he repeated just months ago in his State of the State address? It depends. The governor's office called the bill fiscally responsible and essentially revenue-neutral in the first year at about $35 million in less revenue. From there, the bill is nowhere close to bringing in as much state revenue as projected. And McCrory is moving the goalposts and redefining what he meant. (Read below to see how the governor's office is positioning itself.)

TILLIS SUPER PAC GETS BIG CHECKS FROM 3 HE HELPED PUT ON UNC BOARD: A super PAC for House Speaker Thom Tillis recently raised $105,000 from five donors for his U.S. Senate race, including $70,000 from three men the House appointed to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

The contributions raise more questions about whether donations to the Republican candidate’s bid are connected to legislation in the chamber he controls. They also highlight Tillis’ ability to raise money when other lawmakers are limited in soliciting campaign contributions. W.G. Champion Mitchell said his $25,000 contribution had nothing to do with his recent appointment to the university’s governing board. “I want to see him be our next senator,” Mitchell said. “That is the answer.” Read more here.

***Get a full roundup of North Carolina political news and analysis below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

In video, realtors association vows to fight 'home tax'

The N.C. Association of Realtors is sending a message to Republican lawmakers considering a tax overhaul: don't hike the real estate transfer tax.

Senate Republicans put the item on the table in the debate. And now the association is responding with a new web video that signals it is prepared to fight the tax plan is the transfer tax is included.

Morning Roundup: Immigration ruling spurs mixed reaction in North Carolina

Local elected officials, immigration activists and others had mixed reactions to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that threw out key provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law. Read more here.

More political headlines:

--From AP: Rielle Hunter says she and former presidential candidate John Edwards have ended their relationship. Hunter told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that she and Edwards were still a couple until late last week, as details from Hunter's memoir became public. The breakup was painful, but Hunter said Edwards will still be involved with their daughter, Quinn, who is 4 years old and lives with Hunter.

Kent to leave Realtor group

Tim Kent, chief executive of the N.C. Association of Realtors, will leave the organization at the end of the year.

Kent has led the association, a powerful force in state and local politics, for nine years. Kent is ranked as the 11th most effective lobbyist by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research and the group contributed $542,000 to candidates between 2007 and 2008, according to State Board of Election records. The association defeated all 24 referendums on a local real estate transfer tax.

"Tim's leadership, keen eye for talent recruitment and strategic vision have enabled this association to achieve great strides," association President Sandra L. O'Connor said in a news release.

The association has a membership of nearly 38,000 individuals with 65 local associations statewide.

2007: Banner year for state lobbying

A record $22 million was spent lobbying the state in 2007.

According to data compiled by the nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina, nearly 900 businesses, trade associations and nonprofits lobbied state officials in 2007, the last long session of the state legislature.

That amounts to nearly $125,000 for each of the 170 legislators.

The $19.5 million in compensation for individual lobbyists was $5 million more than reported in 2005, but executive director Bob Hall said that may be because we know more.

"That big a jump is largely due to the state's new ethics law that requires more groups to file more complete reports about more of their activities," he said.

The top lobbying groups were the N.C. Association of Realtors, which reported spending $972,384 on six lobbyists and other expenses; Land for Tomorrow, $403,092 on three lobbyists; and the N.C. Automobile Dealers Association, $287,959 on four lobbyists.

The highest-paid lobbyists were former state Sen. Steve Metcalf of Asheville, who reported $485,362 in compensation; former Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten, $396,764; and Alexander "Sandy" Sands of Womble Carlyle, $325,055.

New GOP consulting firm starting up

A new Republican consulting group is setting up shop.

Chris Sinclair of Public Solutions and Alastair Macaulay of Cornerstone Strategy and Communications announced that they will merge.

The new firm, called Cornerstone Solutions, will be a full-service political consulting, strategic communications and issue management firm in North Carolina.

Sinclair said in an e-mail to Dome that they plan to fill the void left by the retirement of Tom Fetzer and Mark Stephens after the November elections.

"We're the new (Republican) kids on the block," he said.

The two consultants have a lot of experience on the hot-button issue of real estate. Both have helped the N.C. Association of Realtors successfully fend off land transfer taxes nearly two dozen times and another campaign against allowing counties to have the tax.

Alastair is the former political director for the N.C. Home Builders Association.

The firm will have an office in West Palm Beach, Fla., headed by Rick Asnani, and in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.

Realtor complains to elections board

A Raleigh Realtor has complained to the State Board of Elections.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Raleigh Realtor Becky Harper complains about the N.C. Association of Realtors' use of required dues to oppose the transfer tax.

She notes that she is required to be a member of the association to have access to the Multiple Listing Service, which lists real estate for sale.

"I do not believe that it is right that my required fees are used to support direct political action for or against ballot initiatives," she writes.

She also notes that the dues are deductible as a business expense, but the use of them for political purposes may "jeopardize" that deduction.

Harper attached an e-mail and a letter from the association about the use of dues.

Update: Elections Director Gary Bartlett said they will look into the complaint.

"We plan to do due diligence on it," he said.  

Realtors complaint

A complaint from a Realtor about the use of dues for political purposes.
Download document

Thursday quick hits

* Don Vaughan, Paul Gibson, Melvin "Skip" Alston also mentioned as possible replacements for state Sen. Kay Hagan in legislature. (Capital Beat)

* N.C. Association of Realtors and N.C. Home Builders Association are spending at least $441,000 to finance 15 local groups fighting transfer taxes. (Char-O)

* U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has gone through a six-week crash course on veterans' issues since taking over committee spot from Sen. Larry Craig. (Politico)

* U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick and three other former Charlotte mayors urge voters not to overturn half-cent sales tax for public transit. (Char-O)

Transfer tax fight goes local

The N.C. Association of County Commissioners is training the troops.

At a day-long seminar, the association told 120 local officials from 45 counties how to fight a local ballot battle for a transfer tax.

Counties can't spend taxpayer money in support of referenda, but county commissioners can stump for them on their own dime. 

Sixteen counties, including Chatham, Johnston and possibly Orange, will ask voters to approve a new tax on the 0.4 percent tax on real estate sales.

The N.C. Association of Realtors is partnering with local groups to fight the measures. (N&O

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