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Morning Memo: Questions for Thom Tillis, McCrory wades into tax fight

THREE QUESTIONS FOR THOM TILLIS: House Speaker Thom Tillis' decision to formally enter the Senate race and challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is not a surprise. But the timing, coming before the end of the legislative session, when Tillis said in January he would make a decision, is noteworthy. Here are three more questions about the race:

1. How long will he remain speaker? Running for the U.S. Senate is no state legislative race. It's all consuming. Does Tillis think he can manage an unruly House that is to his ideological right while campaigning? The case for staying in office: it helps to control the purse strings when you are asking for money. His allied super PAC, by coincidence or not, debuted when the House received the budget from the Senate. The case for resigning: Why have everything the Rep. Brawley's of the world propose drag you into issue fights you don't want?

2. Who will challenge him from the right? Tillis' debuted his run with an AP interview in which he emphasized his ability to work across the aisle -- a common message, but rarely heard in the primary stage of a campaign when you are appealing the fieriest partisans of your party. But it underscores Tillis' moderate tendencies and how Tillis could easily face a big-name challenger who is considered more conservative. The field could get crowded -- and Tillis isn't polling well in GOP primary surveys because he's largely unknown, despite his powerful post.

3. What will Phil Berger do? The possibility that Senate leader Phil Berger could enter the race -- and move to Tillis' right -- would add a whole new dynamic to the Republican primary field as two legislative leaders govern the state by their future ambition. It sounds less likely that he will run but even if he doesn't run, Berger can exert considerable influence if Tillis remains in the legislature by steering legislation that forces him to take positions on issues he may rather avoid.

***Read more on Tillis' Senate bid and Gov. Pat McCrory's step into the tax debate for the first time -- all below in the Dome Morning Memo, the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. ***

Report notes North Carolina's longtime ties to ALEC

Dome meant to note this earlier, but it’s been a busy year: One local liberal group, Progress N.C., put out a report some months ago on the American Legislative Exchange Council that will likely have some bearing on the upcoming session.

ALEC was a significant part of Republican lawmakers’ agenda in Raleigh, with a “boot camp” on “model legislation,” a spring summit meeting of the organization’s various task forces – each specializes in specific issues – was held in Charlotte, and in the summer of 2011, a large contingent of Republican members of the House attended the national conference in New Orleans, where House Speaker Thom Tillis was named one of the legislators of the year.

Meanwhile, a drumbeat by liberal groups outed ALEC’s behind-the-scenes work to bring the corporate agenda to the nation’s legislators to pass pro-business laws. Despite the bad P.R., North Carolina legislators aren’t likely to severe their longstanding ties to ALEC, and the group will likely continue to be a player in the new session that begins in January.

Claims Dept: Perdue on McCrory, vouchers

An ad by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue attacks Republican rival Pat McCrory over school vouchers.

What the ad says: Perdue is shown reading to children, with the words "Endorsed by North Carolina teachers" below. Perdue: "I'm Bev Perdue. I'm running for governor and I sponsored this ad." The ad then shows images of McCrory, a headline from the Charlotte Observer and schools. Narrator: "There's a real difference between the candidates on the issue of school vouchers. Pat McCrory supports private school vouchers, taking 900 million taxpayer dollars away from public schools to pay for kids in private schools. McCrory would have to slash public education or raises taxes." A clip from a McCrory ad is shown: "I'm Pat McCrory. The difference is leadership." Narrator: "You call that leadership? Pat McCrory, wrong on vouchers, wrong for the middle class."

The background: Vouchers are a traditional Democratic-Republican divide in North Carolina.

About 20 vouchers programs are in use across 14 states around the country, according to Jeff Reed, director of the education task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonpartisan association for conservative lawmakers.

Vouchers or programs where parents can take tax credits for private education are typically limited to disabled or disadvantaged students in failing schools, Reed said. No state has a universal voucher program.

This year a bipartisan group of N.C. lawmakers pushed for a tax credit for special-needs students that would be worth as much as $6,000 per child each year. The bill died in committee.

McCrory has consistently supported vouchers, but recently he has also said he would limit them. During the Republican primary this year, he pitched vouchers as a way to increase competition among schools and offer parents more choices.

"The more competition we have, the more choice you have in education, the better our education is going to be for our kids," he told a Hendersonville crowd in March. "And parents must have these choices, both with charter schools, school vouchers, and also more choice at the local school."

In a candidate questionnaire distributed by the N.C. Family Policy Council, McCrory answered "yes" to, "Should parents who choose to educate their children in private, religious, or home schools receive a voucher or tax credit from the state?

The $900 million figure is based on calculations that assume that every student home schooled or enrolled in private school in North Carolina would get a voucher. That would be a much more extensive program than is available in any other state.

Perdue has been endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators in the primary and the general election this year.

Is it accurate? Yes and no. McCrory has voiced support for vouchers, but the $900 million figure is misleading.

— Lynn Bonner

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