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Morning Memo: GOP moves to limit early voting as budget debate begins

REPUBLICANS MOVE TO CURTAIL EARLY VOTING: Republicans are moving in the final days of the legislative session to cut early voting by a week, limit Sunday voting and curtail some voter registration efforts in a sweeping bill that is expected to debut Tuesday. The measure also may advance the state's presidential primary to a week after South Carolina's first-in-the-South contest. The last-minute election measures will appear in a Senate bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. (Check Dome for more on the bill later today.)

EDUCATION FOCUS OF BUDGET DEBATE: The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the tenure provisions in the state budget. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said for the first time in her 30-year career, she fears for the future of public education. “I am truly worried about the ongoing starvation of our public schools,” she said. “I see other states making a commitment to public education. In our state I see in this budget we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting teacher assistants, we’re cutting instructional support.”

With education as the focus, the House and Senate will take budget votes Tuesday and Wednesday as they race toward the end of session.

***More on the state budget and other North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

McCrory asks board to blaze a trail to economic development

Gov. Pat McCrory charged the newly appointed State Economic Development Board with the task of fixing the state’s economy Wednesday when he dropped by their first meeting.

The board, chaired by John Lassiter, a longtime ally of McCrory and leader of his 501(c)(4) political committee, should develop a strategic plan in the next six months. The governor said it should last a decade and focus on three major economic issues: Medicaid, which is “busting our budget” and needs reform; getting into the energy business; and education, which holds the key to growth through vocational reform.

Environmental poll shows opposition to fracking, relaxing regulations

A new poll by an environmental group shows most North Carolinians oppose fracking, favor clean energy and overwhelmingly think current regulations are sufficient or should be stronger.

“From the mountains to the beaches, it’s clear that North Carolinians take special pride in their state, and see state environmental safeguards as protecting our heritage and ensuring that our children can enjoy the Carolina we know and love,” said Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Luis Martinez of Asheville, in a statement.

Fracking Commission to lawmakers: Hands off!

The head of the state's fracking commission has asked Republican lawmakers to honor a hands-off policy with regard to shale gas exploration.

N.C. Mining & Energy Commission Chairman James Womack wrote to lawmakers that the legislature's recent attempt to trump the commission's work not only creates the potential for abuse by the energy industry but also stirs up North Carolina's anti-fracking opponents.

The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state. The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state. Womack, a Republican himself, sent a 2-page letter late Sunday to the Republican leaders in the legislature: N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Morning Memo: National gun debate to hit North Carolina TV screens

UPDATED: BLOOMBERG TO TARGET N.C. IN GUN DEBATE: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is preparing to launch a major TV ad campaign aimed at U.S. senators in swing states -- including Democrat Kay Hagan. From the NYT: "Determined to persuade Congress to act in response to that shooting, Mr. Bloomberg on Monday will begin bankrolling a $12 million national advertising campaign that focuses on senators who he believes might be persuaded to support a pending package of federal regulations to curb gun violence. The ads, in 13 states, will blanket those senators’ districts during an Easter Congressional recess that is to be followed by debate over the legislation."

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Dix lease to the city of Raleigh hits the chopping block. The Senate convenes at 7 p.m. but won't consider the bill until Tuesday. The House convenes at 4 p.m. but no votes are expected. The Wake County delegation at 4 p.m. in room 643 of the legislative office building. (More on the meeting below.) Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule today.

***Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a daily tipsheet for N.C. political news. Send tips and news to dome@newsobserver.com. Read more below.***

Morning Memo: Gambling probe has NC ties, Tillis joins ALEC board

MAN AT CENTER OF GAMBLING INVESTIGATION HAS N.C. TIES: An Oklahoma technology company owner who is caught up in a massive investigation into illegal gambling has been a key player in North Carolina’s elusive video sweepstakes games, and has been a generous political contributor. Chase Egan Burns, 37, faces charges in Florida that include racketeering and conspiracy, according to The Associated Press. Burns was arrested Tuesday. Court documents say Burns claimed money put into his gambling machines would be donated to Allied Veterans, but the group received less than 1 percent of the proceeds, The AP reported.

Burns is the owner of International Internet Technologies, which reportedly has more than 100 licensees in North Carolina that employ about 1,100 people. Burns has made $154,000 in campaign contributions in recent years to state political candidates of both parties -- including Gov. Pat McCrory -- and to the state Republican Party.

THOM TILLIS JOINS ALEC BOARD: House Speaker Thom Tillis recently joined the American Legislative Exchange Council's board of directors. "I've been a member for several years and it's a great organziation. I think it's a great colaboration between legislators and businesses. They asked me if I would serve I told them I would happy to," he said in an interview. ALEC is a free-market organization that crafts "model legislation" (such as the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law) by putting corporate representatives and state legislators together. Critics - object to the secrecy of the process and say big business is buying access. Tillis dismissed any concerns about the group, comparing it to the National Conference on State Legislatures. "If you look at most the legialtion that moves through ALEC, a lot of it has it's roots in some other legislative body," he said.

***Good morning. Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- a one-stop-shop for North Carolina political news to start the day. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Much more below. ***

McCrory continues to push for offshore drilling

Gov. Pat McCrory continues to emphasize his desire to drill for oil and gas off the North Carolina coast.

Earlier this month, he joined the governors of Virginia and South Carolina in petitioning the Obama administration to partner on offshore energy exploration. On Friday, his office announced he joined the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group that advocates for drilling.

“Pursuing responsible exploration and development of our offshore resources will help us reach our shared goal of greater energy independence and will create thousands of jobs," McCrory said in a statement released by his office.

Legislative preview: Meet your delegation, look at the issues, meet key players

On Wednesday, the General Assembly returns to Raleigh to begin the long session, which is expected to last about five months. In today's paper we take a comprehensive look at the people and the issues that will be making the news, and the laws, in the months ahead. From lawmakers to lobbyists -- and lawmakers turned lobbyists -- plus key staffers behind the scenes, and an army of competing interests, the statehouse on Jones Street is about to begin whistling like a kettle.

Gov. McCrory embraces offshore wind power as energy alternative

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory asserted his political independence on energy policy this week by throwing his support behind developing wind farms in North Carolina.

Not just any wind farms, but offshore wind farms, which are considered among the most expensive forms of electricity, and generally denounced by conservatives and libertarians as a subsidy-dependent boondoggle.

McCrory notified the feds that he endorses the Obama Administration's efforts to develop offshore wind power. The newly installed governor is making his pro-wind overture at a time that his Republican allies in the state legislature are making plans to roll back North Carolina's 2007 energy law that requires electric utilities to use wind power and other renewables.

Groups: McCrory's Duke Energy ties cloud judgment on Utilities Commission

UPDATED:A pair of advocacy groups that have long challenged power companies are urging Gov.-elect Pat McCrory to cede his constitutional powers to appoint regulators to the N.C. Utilities Commission.

N.C. WARN and the state branch of the AARP are concerned that McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee and ex-mayor of Charlotte, will stack the commission with utility-friendly appointees who will side with the Charlotte power company on rates and other key issues.

Their concern is that McCrory has vowed to name regulators who view their job as providing a customer service to the companies they regulate. That concern is exacerbated by the fact that the commission recently concluded a contentious 5-month investigation of Duke, which ended with a settlement that will restructure the company's executive ranks.

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