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Morning Memo: Harris stakes his ground; GOP lawmaker presses McCrory

HARRIS DECLARES HE'S THE SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE IN THE RACE: The Rev. Mark Harris, a leading social conservative, entered the North Carolina Senate race Wednesday, setting up a potential insider/outsider GOP primary showdown next May with House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Harris, the outgoing president of the state Baptist Convention, said he would campaign as a staunch advocate for lowering taxes, reducing government, ending Obamacare and protecting gun rights, that he would back measures that he believes would improve “traditional moral values.” Read more here.

GOP SENATOR SAYS McCRORY ADMINISTRATION IS BREAKING THE LAW: A high-ranking Republican state senator said Wednesday that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is flouting the law. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, complained that McCrory hasn’t named an independent Unemployment Review Board to review decisions on unemployment benefits made by the state Division of Employment Security. Rucho’s remarks came during a legislative committee meeting where lawmakers were questioning Dale Folwell, the agency’s head. Read more here.

***Read more on the Harris announcement and a North Carolina political roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Business cheers Rucho and Howard for unemployment cuts

The cuts in unemployment benefits have not been very popular, and have been one of the focuses of the Moral Monday protests.

But now the principal authors are getting some love. Rep. Julia Howard and Sen. Bob Rucho have been named the 2013 recipients of the Unemployment Insurance Integrity Award given by the UWC -- Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers Compensation. UWC is a national association that presents the business community on unemployment insurance and workers' compensation public policy issues.

"The North Carolina Chamber and its members commend the leadership of Re. Howard and Sen. Rucho in reforming our state's broke and broken unemployment system,'' said Lew Ebert, chamber president. "We are pleased to see them be recognized for their hard work in shifting our focus from unemployment to reemployment.''

The legislature passed a bill in February dealing with $2.5 billion debt on unemployment insurance -- the third largest in the country -- caused by the state's high unemployment rate and a series of tax cuts in unemployment insurance over the years.

Because North Carolina leaders cut average weekly benefits for new claims,a bout 170,000 workers whose state benefits expire this year will lose more than $700 million in payments, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Morning Memo: With jobless benefits expiring, focus on Moral Monday protest

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: How big will Moral Monday get? That's the top question today at the statehouse. Now in the ninth week, the protests are expected to grow because long-term unemployment benefits end Monday for more than 70,000 workers thanks to a bill approved by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory. A rainy weather forecast may dampen the demonstration.

With the House not holding full sessions this week, the Senate is moving forward. At 2 p.m., the Senate Finance Committee will meet to look at the chamber's tax plan again. It is expected to send it back to the floor, where it will get a final vote this week and start the conference process on an issue that has stymied Republicans. The full Senate starts at 7 p.m.

UPDATED: McCrory released a public schedule later in the morning saying he would attend the swearing in ceremony for utilities board members.

CHRISTENSEN: Tax debate cherry picks statistics. In his Sunday column, Rob Christensen looks at the motivation for tax reform, picking apart the numbers to conclude: "There may be a legitimate argument for tinkering with the tax code – making sure corporate taxes are not out of line with neighboring states. But the link between lowering taxes and a booming state economy is weak. ...

So what is the value to having one of the lowest business tax rates, if you jeopardize the state’s quality of life? Those business executives don’t just want to move businesses here, but they want to live here as well." Full story.

***Find many more political headlines below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Hagan supports immigration bill, Burr against

HAGAN TO SUPPORT IMMIGRATION BILL: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Wednesday announced that she’ll vote for an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, saying it will help North Carolina’s economy and strengthen the nation’s border security. “I’m ready to support a common-sense bill that’s going to fix our broken immigration system so that everybody plays by the same rules today,” the first-term Democrat said. “After listening to a wide variety of stakeholders throughout North Carolina, it’s clear to me supporting bill is the right decision for North Carolina.”

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A couple hot-button measures are resurfacing at the state legislature Thursday. The Commonsense Consumption Act, an ALEC-sponsored bill to give food manufacturers immunity against obesity-related lawsuits, appears in the Senate judiciary committee at 10 a.m. The N.C. version of the bill also includes a "Big Gulp" provision to prevent cities from passing a ban on large-sized sodas. A Sharia law measure is off the agenda. On the floor, the House will take a final vote on a bill to privatize much of the state commerce department and require certain abortion-related education in middle school health classes. The Senate will consider a bill that would restrict the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, thwarting other state efforts to set tough rules on the issue.

Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a dinner hosted by a nonprofit organized to boost his agenda in Greensboro this evening, a day after he defended it against critics who say it represents pay-for-access for special interests. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to attend the dinner, which costs $1,000 for two tickets. Dr. Ben Carson, the latest conservative TV darling, will appear at a 6:30 p.m. event in Raleigh to benefit the Upper Room church’s school.

***More on Kay Hagan's immigration vote and her potential GOP rival Thom Tillis' campaign, along with SCOTUS reaction and Mel Watt's confirmation fight, all below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

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."


Jobless benefits overhaul takes effect July 1

Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law a bill that addresses the state's $2.5 billion debt to the federal government by overhauling the state's unemployment system, including significantly cutting benefits for the jobless.

"I will not outsource these tough decisions," McCrory said in a prepared statement. "This bipartisan solution will protect our small businesses from continued over-taxation, ensure our citizens' unemployment safety net is secure and financially sound for future generations, and help provide an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again."

Gov. McCrory signs 'bipartisan' unemployment legislation

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed what he called Tuesday a "bipartisan" bill that moves quickly to pay down the state's unemployment debt by cutting benefits for jobless workers.

Bipartisan? The word is striking given the bitterly partisan moments in the legislative debate. How does he get to claim that Republicans and Democrats supported the bill? Four Democratic state senators and three Democratic House members supported the measure. It equals about one-quarter of Senate Democrats and 7 percent of House Democrats.

Jobless benefits bill heads to Gov. McCory's desk

Next stop for the bill to overhaul the state's unemployment system: The desk of Gov. Pat McCrory.

On Wednesday the state Senate gave final approval to the bill by a 36-12 vote. Republican senators unanimously voted for the bill along with four Democrats: Ben Clark of Cumberland County, Clark Jenkins of Bertie County, Gene McLaurin of Anson County and Michael Walters of Columbus County.

The House approved the measure last week, and Gov. Pat McCrory has made clear that he intends to sign the bill into law.

Democrats cross aisle to vote for unemployment overhaul

Four Democrats crossed the aisle Tuesday to vote for the Republican-backed bill overhauling the state's unemployment system.

The bill, which is up for its final vote in the Senate today, passed 36-13 on Tuesday. Joining the Republicans were Democrats: Ben Clark of Cumberland County, Clark Jenkins of Bertie County, Gene McLaurin of Anson County and Michael Walters of Columbus County.

When the bill passed the House last week, it also received support from Democrats — three to be exact: William Brisson of Bladen County, Ken Goodman of Hoke County and Paul Tine of Beaufort County.

Last year, Brisson sided with Republicans on a few otherwise partisan issues, most notably overrides of the Perdue's vetoes of the Racial Justice Act and the legislature's budget.

So far, the unemployment bill has received unanimous support from Republicans.

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.***

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