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Legislative committee will look at problems with NC FAST, NC TRACKS

A legislative committee will soon begin looking into problems with the state’s computer programs that allow Medicaid providers to be paid and provide food stamps for the needy.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Wednesday that a committee will take up the issues. He said that he has heard from medical practices and hospitals that they have had trouble getting their claims processed.

“It’s something we’re working through,” Berger told reporters after the Senate’s veto session.

The issue came up at the conclusion of the Senate session, when Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat from Asheville, brought up the controversy over a pair of high-paid DHHS employees, and complaints about the state’s NC FAST and NC TRACKS food stamps and Medicaid reimbursement computer systems.

Politicians, advocates react strongly to GOP budget plan

The Republican-crafted $20.6 billion state budget is eliciting strong reactions from across the North Carolina political spectrum. Much of it focuses on the education funding changes. One person yet to respond: Gov. Pat McCrory. But in the meantime, check out a roundup of statements below.

--Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt: “With this budget and last week’s tax bill, we can clearly see the Republican agenda: hoarding power in Raleigh and cutting vital services to the middle class in order to pay for massive handouts to the wealthiest 1% and out-of-state corporations. This is ‘big-government’ conservatism that prioritizes power over people and special interests and the super-wealthy over middle class families."

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: Crossover week begins at #NCGA; Ben Carson to visit Raleigh

Welcome to Crossover Week on Jones Street. Think the action’s been fast so far? Well, hold onto our elephant ears, this week lawmakers will be shoveling as many bills as possible through committee and out to their floors for a vote to meet a Thursday deadline dubbed crossover.

The House and Senate rules say that bills that don’t raise or spend money or propose amendments to the state constitution must pass either the House or Senate by Thursday to be considered during the session. Of course, rules are made to be circumvented, so there are many ways to keep legislation alive. Dome’s favorite: Strip a bill that has already crossed over of its language and insert your bill of choice.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo. Read more about the issues hanging in the balance this week at the legislature. And send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

Long-time legislative staffer gets new job

The long-time director of the legislature's bill drafting division is changing jobs and will move to the newly created position of special counsel next month.

Gerry Cohen has been a legislative staffer for 35 years, and has run bill drafting for 31 years. In addition to his official duties, Cohen is the go-to man for answers to obscure questoins on General Assembly history and how things work.

Update: Asked why the legislature is adding a position in a time of tight budgets, spokespeople for legislative leaders referred to this prepared statement.

"There is no one in the state of North Carolina who understands the legislative process better than Gerry Cohen," House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger said. "Gerry has been invaluable to the General Assembly for more than three decades, and we are grateful he will continue to share his many talents in an important new capacity."

Democrats ask GOP legislative leaders to review second floor rule

Democratic legislative leaders are asking their GOP counterparts to review a statehouse rule that bans visitors from the second floor where the legislative chambers are located.

Rep. Joe Hackney and Sen. Martin Nesbitt believe House Speaker Thom Tillis' office incorrectly used the rule to evict protesters in February. (For more on the rule, click here.)

They are OK with not letting people viewing the building or observing the session walk the floor -- but believe the rule doesn't cover protesters.

Senate Dem leader's fundraising lags

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt's campaign finance report shows he raised $45,725 in the last six months of last year, and has about $25,000 in the bank.

Not a great total for the Asheville Democrat. Traditionally, caucus leaders are leading fundraisers and dole out cash to caucus members and the party.  Nesbitt said when he was elected minority leader in December 2010 that fund raising was going to have to become more of a shared responsibility.

Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, raised $264,000 over the same time period. He has more than $476,000 in the bank.

Nesbitt hires former N&Oer

Former News & Observer reporter Leah Friedman is Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt's new communications director.

Friedman, who replaces Jeff Giertz, starts work for the Asheville Democrat on Jan. 3. She'll make $40,000 a year.

"I'm pretty excited," she said.

Friedman worked at the N&O for six years. Her last assignment was as the Triangle Troubleshooter.

Friedman joins a host of former reporters who have jumped to political communications in the last few years.

Working to counter nearly everything Friedman says on Nesbitt's behalf is former N&O writer Ray Martin, Senate leader Phil Berger's press secretary.

Former N&O writer Ben Niolet is working for Gov. Bev Perdue, as is former Charlotte Observer writer Mark Johnson.

Senate Dems to keep the heat on for unemployed

Senate Democrats are sponsoring a public hearing tomorrow afternoon on the long-term unemployed who have lost their federal benefits in the skirmish over the state budget.

About 37,000 people stopped receiving benefits a little more than a week ago after Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill that would have extended the benefits but weakened her in budget negotiations.

Legislative Republicans want Perdue to agree to the budget limits, while she wants the legislature to pass a bill without the budget provision.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, said the legislature should move quickly to restore the benefits. He called tomorrow's hearing "an awareness meeting."

"This just plain and simple should not be a part of our political contest over here," he said. "Surely we can find issues that don't hurt people who are already at the bottom of the barrel economically."

Update:

Senate leader Phil Berger said his chamber has no plans to act on another unemployment benefits bill.

Democratic Rep. William Wainwright asks House members to sign a discharge petition to get a vote on a stand-alone unemployment benefits bill.

A radioactive issue?

Say What?
"If someone ties a love note to a nuclear bomb, do you take them both?"

The senator from Asheville, responding to Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of a GOP-backed bill that tied paying unemployment benefits to 37,000 people to a resolution that sought to severely weaken the governor's negotiating leverage in the upcoming showdown over the state budget.


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