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Morning Memo: Cooper's unofficial debut; peek inside GOP voters' minds

ROY COOPER'S DEBUT: Attorney General Roy Cooper is the featured speaker Saturday morning at the N.C. Democratic Party's Western Gala. The speech at the women's breakfast will serve as his unofficial debut in the 2016 governor's race. In recent weeks, Cooper has made his intentions to run clear and the event will give him a platform to begin gathering Democratic support as other party challengers emerge. Later in the evening, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and R.T. Rybak, the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will speak at the party fundraiser.

***A must-read analysis of Republicans and its potential impact on the N.C. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: McCrory's approval rating sinks, questions remain in tax deal

ALERT: McCRORY'S APPROVAL RATING TUMBLES: For the first time in his term, more voters disapprove of Gov. Pat McCrory than support him, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey. The Democratic firm found 40 percent approve of the job McCrory is doing and 49 percent disapprove. It's a significant shift from a month ago when PPP put the Republican governor's approval rating at 45 percent with 39 percent disapproval. (Read more on Dome later this morning.)

REPUBLICANS RALLY TO THANK LAWMAKERS: Moral Monday protesters aren’t the only ones rallying on Halifax Mall this week. The N.C. Republican Party has asked conservatives to gather at 5 p.m. Tuesday for “Thankful Tuesday,” a meeting planned by a coalition of groups to thank legislators for their work. The event will also allow for networking between Republicans and supporters. It isn’t a counter-protest to Moral Mondays, the left-leaning demonstrations that have garnered national attention for the past 10 weeks, said Mike Rusher, the state GOP’s chief of staff. “We want to tell our state legislators that we’re basically proud of what they’re doing,” said Joe Taylor, a member of the Moccasin Creek Minutemen, a conservative group that is helping to host the event. “They catch a lot of grief on Monday.” Read more here.

***In the Dome Morning Memo below: three big questions for the tax deal, an unusual new name for House Speaker Thom Tillis and more North Carolina political news.***

75 mph speed limit bill revived as a study

After House members balked last week at approving a Senate bill to make 75 mph the state’s top speed limit, the bill was converted Tuesday to a plan to have the state Department of Transportation study the idea, to see whether it’s safe.

On a split vote – with some legislators warning that a 75-mph speed limit is too dangerous even for a study – the House Transportation Committee approved the amended bill and sent it to another committee.

If the full House and Senate agree, DOT will consider whether the state should launch a pilot program to pick four sections of freeways where drivers would be allowed to go 75 mph. The state’s top speed limit now is 70 mph. Find more here.

Morning Memo: Abortion bill puts McCrory in spotlight, Monday protests grow

ABORTION BILL PUTS McCRORY IN A TOUGH SPOT: A controversial measure based on disputed science will get most the attention Tuesday at the statehouse. The legislation -- an amended version of which already passed the Senate -- requires teachers tell seventh graders that abortion is a risk factor in subsequent premature births. It gets a hearing in the House health committee at 10 a.m.

If approved, it could put Gov. Pat McCrory in the spotlight. In a gubernatorial debate, McCrory said he wouldn't support any new abortion restrictions -- a point critics plan to hold him to. “Governor McCrory made a promise to all of us back in October when he said he would not support any new restrictions to abortion access in our state. We’ve been collecting signatures all year from North Carolinians who have vowed to hold the Governor to his word,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, in a statement. “I want to be very clear here,” Buckley continued, “We will consider anything less than a veto of legislation aimed at limiting access to abortion care as a breach of that promise.”

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: With Republicans unable to craft a state budget before the July 1 deadline, the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider a continuing resolution to keep government running at its current level for another 30 days. It could also get to the Senate floor later in the day. In the House, an education committee will debate a bill to create an independent board to govern charter schools -- a measure that the Republican chairman of the state board of education opposes. The House is expecting a light calendar when it convenes at 2 p.m.

***Read about the big crowd and growing number of arrests at the Moral Monday protests below in today's Dome Morning Memo. Sends news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Gov. McCrory uses video to thank state lawmakers

Gov. Pat McCrory goes all 21st century fireside chat on us in a new video he is using to thank state lawmakers for passing one of his major legislative agenda items, a bill to revamp how transportation money is distributed. The House gave it a final approval Wednesday, sending it to McCrory's desk. It's not a Fred Davis video, per his campaign commercials, but it's McCrory talking from a chair comparing himself to a different president, Dwight Eisenhower.

Morning Memo: Arrests near 500, Democrats debut anti-Tillis website

TOTAL ARRESTS NEAR 500: Eighty-four demonstrators were arrested by the N.C. General Assembly police on Monday, bringing the total since April 29 to more than 480. Holly Jordan, 29, a teacher at Hillside High School in Durham, said she decided to get arrested on Monday because she was thoroughly upset with the education policies and budgets proposed. She knew that some of the Republicans had described their naysayers as “aging hippies” and “outsiders” who considered it “en vogue” to get arrested.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Senate will take a final vote on its tax plan, and send it to the House. The two chambers remain far apart on how to cut taxes. The House will consider Gov. Pat McCrory's transportation funding bill. In committees, House lawmakers will consider a bill to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on certain roads and a bill requiring cursive -- which is likely to be remade entirely at the last minute, given a similar bill passed earlier this session. Senate lawmakers will meet in committees to consider a bill requiring background checks on those who receive some public assistance and another measure to roll back energy efficiency regulations on building to 2009 levels.

Gov. Pat McCrory will visit another rotary club, this time in Winston-Salem, before meeting with unidentified business leaders in a private meeting at Womble Carlyle, a law firm that also has a lobbying practice.

***Below in the Dome Morning Memo -- U.S. Senate race news, remember Jim Holshouser and a legislative roundup.***

Inside the Senate's transportation spending priorities

Here are some of the transportation funding and policy changes outlined in the proposed Senate budget (PDF) released Sunday. Some of these are new proposals, and others were previously aired this spring in separate legislation:

Try to acquire federal land around Oregon Inlet: The Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task Force is established to study the state's options for acquiring land around the Oregon Inlet from the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so the state can preserve the navigability of Oregon Inlet.

Charge tolls on all ferries: Order the state Department of Transportation to begin collecting tolls on all seven ferry routes by November 1, with rates high enough to generate $5 million to $10 million a year in revenues. This would include tolls on the two routes that the General Assembly said last year would stay toll-free: Hatteras Inlet and Currituck Sound.

House lets state collect tolls for new lanes on 95, elsewhere

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the House agreed to let the state collect tolls to help pay for the addition of new lanes on I-95 and other interstate highways -- but only if drivers retain the option to drive toll-free in the old lanes.

Eastern North Carolina political leaders and residents of the eight I-95 counties have opposed a state Department of Transportation proposal to collect tolls on both new and old lanes to finance a $4.4 billion widening and overhaul for I-95.

The aging interstate would be expanded from four to eight lanes on the busiest 50 miles between I-40 in Johnston County and St. Pauls in Robeson County, and six lanes on the remainder of its 182 miles between the South Carolina and Virginia borders. Under the original proposal, drivers would begin paying tolls in all lanes before the project is finished.

Morning Memo: Tax plan takeaways, full day at legislature

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The sausage machine is churning fast these days. A House regulatory reform committee will consider a number of measures to streamline government oversight, a major Republican agenda item, and the House Elections Committee will hear bills to repeal the state's antiquated literacy test and make judicial elections partisan contests. A Senate education committee will vote on a bill to regulate student prayers at school and athletic events and a Senate health care care committee takes up another abortion-related bill. The full House will take votes on a bill to impose term limits on House and Senate leaders and a proposal to repeal the estate tax. The full Senate will hear a measure to ban e-cigarette sales to minors. Gov. Pat McCrory will make an economic development announcement at 3 p.m. in Raleigh.

***More political intelligence below in the Dome Morning Memo including analysis of the Senate's tax plan and a roundup of the fast and furious legislative action. Send news and tips to dome @newsobserver.com. Thanks.***

Morning Memo: Senate rolls out tax plan; ALEC keeps clout in North Carolina

SENATE LEADERS TO PITCH TAX PLAN: The long-awaited plan to overhaul the state's tax system will debut Tuesday. Senate Republicans want to slash the personal income tax from the highest 7.75 percent rate to 4.5 percent over three years and drop the corporate income tax from 6.9 percent to 6 percent.

In a video previewing a 12:30 p.m. announcement, Senate leader Phil Berger called it a $1 billion tax cut -- the largest in state history. The question is how to pay for it and the details are less clear, but Berger said it will involved taxing a range of services from haircuts to auto mechanics. (More details below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: Taxes won't take all the air from the N.C. General Assembly today. In committees, the governor's transportation plan gets a final hearing before going to the full House; a health committee considers a measure to limit what a doctor can do about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and birth control without parental consent; and Senate lawmakers will consider (but not vote on) a proposal to allow armed guards in elementary schools who aren't necessarily law enforcement officers.

The controversial gun bill gets a third reading on the House floor and the Senate will consider a controversial state charter school bill similar to ALEC-sponsored legislation. (More on ALEC below.) Gov. Pat McCrory -- who promised to hold regular media availability -- will not take questions after the Council of State meeting at 9 a.m. today. It is normal practice but McCrory has shunned the media after the meetings just about every time since he took office. He lists no other public events on his calendar today.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. A big day in North Carolina politics ahead. Get the scoop below. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

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