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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.

Morning Memo: McCrory to sign Medicaid bill, three others

McCRORY TO SIGN MEDICAID BILL, THREE OTHERS: Much like the bill to cut unemployment benefits, Gov. Pat McCrory will hold a private signing at the Capitol for a bill to block the expansion of Medicaid health care coverage to roughly 500,000, the majority of which are uninsured. The measure also blocks a state-based health insurance exchange and generated a heated debate in the N.C. General Assembly, where it passed largely along party lines. McCrory said the state is not ready for either part of the federal health care law at this point. The Republican governor will also sign the possum drop bill (HB66), a funding fix for group homes (SB4) and a measure to impose great penalties for protests that disturb military funerals (HB19) at 4:30 p.m.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A House Judiciary subcommittee looks at a bill (HB156) to limit the N.C. Education Lottery's ability to advertise and offer new types of games, as well as take the word "education" from its official name. The issue is likely to split Republicans and Democrats, much as the original lottery vote did. Another House subcommittee will consider a measure to open campus police records held by private colleges to public inspection. The Senate Education Committee will take up two bills related to digital learning. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m. McCrory and state officials are participating in a hurricane drill Wednesday morning.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a must-read to start any day in the North Carolina political world.***

Legislators ask congressional delegation to avoid widespread federal budget cuts

Democratic legislators warned that automatic federal budget cuts coming March 1 will damage the state economy, the state budget, children and their families.

The N.C. Budget & Tax Center, part of the N.C. Justice Center, is asking legislators to sign a letter to the state's Congressional delegation urging a "balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes additional new revenues and protects the state budget." The Justice Center is a policy and advocacy organization for poor and working-class people.

The budget cuts will hit military employees, defense contractors, Head Start students, and families who have subsidized child care. The automatic federal budget cuts were part of a 2011 deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans that allowed the country to raise the debt ceiling.

The letter says cuts to defense spending are expected to cost the state $1.5 billion in defense contracts and 11,000 jobs, and non-defense cuts are expected to cost nearly 1 million jobs nationwide and reduce the state's gross domestic product by as much as $2 billion. The budget numbers were taken from a U.S. Senate report from 2011.

Morning Roundup: Payday lending returns, Raleigh wants limits on sweepstakes poker

A bill would bring back payday lending in North Carolina, even though the attorney general shut them down in 2006. This time, a key senator has thrown his weight behind it.

Raleigh's city council wants to regulate Internet sweepstakes parlors after a judge failed to shut down the operations recently.

Liberal group releases report showing GOP tax plan benefits wealthy the most

The tax plan being considered by Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly is the most generous to the wealthiest North Carolinians while raising taxes on middle-income households, according to a new report from the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, an arm of the liberal N.C. Justice Center.

The center's report is designed to counter a study by Arthur Laffer and the conservative Civitas Institute that the GOP lawmakers are using as a blueprint for an overhaul of the state's tax code that includes a proposal to eliminate the personal and corporate income taxes.

"Carolinians while raising taxes on middle-income households," according to a summary of the center's report. "If implemented, a family earning $24,000 a year would see its taxes rise by $500 under the new tax plan, while one earning $1 million would get a $41,000 break. The wealthiest 20 percent of taxpayers will receive a significant tax cut – a cut paid for by shifting the tax load to 60 percent of the state’s taxpayers, primarily middle class and low-income households."

Titled "A 'Laffable' Plan for Tax Reform," find it here.

Civil rights groups press AG Cooper, DMV on immigrant licenses

Lawyers for two civil rights groups called on state officials today to reinstate a policy that made driver’s licenses available to young illegal immigrants who are taking part in a federal program that blocks their deportation for two years (see their letter, below).

“They have all the required documents,” said Kate Woomer-Deters, an immigrant rights advocate with the N.C. Justice Center. “They have an employment authorization card showing their legal presence in the country. They are fully eligible for North Carolina driver’s licenses.”

The state Division of Motor Vehicles says it has stopped issuing the licenses, pending a ruling from state Attorney General Roy Cooper on whether an estimated 180,000 young men and women in the state who are eligible for the federal program are also eligible to drive under state law. Get the full story on the Road Worrier blog.

Education advice for McCrory. Privatize. Or Don't.

Governor-elect Pat McCrory got a welcoming message from a group that wants more charters and public money to support private-school education.

“We look forward to working with the McCrory administration to create more quality parental school choice options for all families that will help prepare their children for a 21st century economy," says Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

The group worked for the law last year that eliminated the cap on charter schools, and this year pushed unsuccessfully for a law that would have corporations get dollar-for-dollar tax refunds for contributions to private school scholarships.

Candidate McCrory expressed support for more charters and for some type of taxpayer-supported private school scholarships.

N.C. GOP files IRS complaint against cadre of liberal groups for electioneering

The N.C. Republican Party sent a complaint Wednesday to the IRS alleging five liberal-leaning nonprofits are violating federal tax law by advocating for political candidates.

The named groups: Democracy North Carolina, the Institute for Southern Studies, N.C. Justice Center, Progress North Carolina and Project Ricochet Inc. of North Carolina. All are 501(c)3 charities that can accept tax-exempt donations under the law but are not allowed to voice support for or against a particular candidate.

"The groups that you see listed ... have clearly broken the letter and the spirit of the law by directly injecting themselves in a political campaign," said GOP Chairman Robin Hayes in a press conference. (See complaint below.)



Document(s):
GOPcomplaint.pdf

State budget cuts fewer jobs than expected

Here’s a wonky fact-check to mull this weekend. 

In the state budget debate this session, Democrats and interest groups tossed out massive numbers -- 14,500, 18,000, 30,000 -- to quantify the jobs Republicans were cutting in the 2012 spending plan.

But the near-final number is actually much less: about 6,455.

Study: Stimulus helped N.C.

The stimulus package passed by Congress is keeping about 200,000 North Carolina families out of poverty, according to a new analysis by the liberal leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The stimulus package, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has expanded food stamp benefits, expanded Child Tax Credits and Earned Income Tax Credits, extended unemployment benefits and made one-time payments to many elderly people, veterans and people with disabilities, Rob Christensen reports.

"It's hard to overstate the importance of the Recovery Act," said Louisa Warren, senior policy advocate at the N.C. Justice Center. "From saving and creating jobs, to keeping struggling families out of poverty, it's had a critical impact in North Carolina as well as the national economy."

Warren said not only does the stimulus money help families in need but the money is spent quickly and close to home.

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