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.
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Republican Pat McCrory is apparently amplifying his efforts to criticize Gov. Bev Perdue's leadership as he continues his candidate-but-not-a-candidate dance.
In an interview with editors and reporters at the Salisbury Post, McCrory highlighted the contradiction behind his rationale not to formally declare his bid, saying he first needs to campaign for more money and support while at the same time calling the campaign cycle too long and expensive. "I wanted to ensure that I have both public and financial support before I officially announce," he told the paper. "Also, I think the full-time campaign season is far too long and far to expensive... And I think people are tired of politicians’ long campaign cycles."
As for his agenda, McCrory aligned himself with the GOP legislative leadership and attacked Perdue's vetoes of a voter identification bill, among others. "We need a leader who actually has a vision of how to proceed in the future and also a strategy to get there," McCrory said. "I have no idea what the vision is that Gov. (Bev) Perdue has been espousing for the last two years. It’s been very reactionary as opposed to proactive."
As Perdue continues to focus on education as a link to economic development -- likely her main campaign talking point -- McCrory is beginning to counter by saying that the state's academic goals need to be tied to job needs in North Carolina, as he told the paper. “I want a direct correlation between what our academic curriculum is to what the employers’ needs are,” McCrory said.
Anthropology majors, beware. Read more from the Post interview here.
As the Democrats prepare for a statewide tour next week, Republicans are quick to counter with bombs, calling it the "Tax Me More Tour."
The GOP is trying to smear all Democrats with a plan advanced by Rep. Bill Faison to resume the one-penny sales tax to cover cuts to education. "Their motto for job-creation is clear, ‘Read our lips: more new taxes for everyone,'" suggested Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood.
The Democrats haven't released any policy proposals ahead of the tour. And it's worth noting that House Democratic Leader Joe Hackney isn't among the 34 lawmakers who endorsed Faison's plan.
As North Carolina lawmakers play politics with a marriage amendment this week, a new progressive political group is going into their districts to talk about how the state budget forced teacher layoffs.
Progress NC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliated with Progress Now, a national issue-advocacy group that aims to hone and spread the progressive message. The local organization formed in June with Gerrick Brenner as executive director. It also has a 501(c)4 arm (Progress NC Action) which expects to play in the 2012 election.
Brenner refused to identify the organization's backers, only saying financial support came from "individuals and charitable foundations."
House Republicans opened budget week with a fanfare, taking time at a news conference Monday to talk about the budget highlights and call phooey on Democrats' projections that the budget will cost 30,000 jobs.
House Democrats are waging an anti-budget campaign centered on education cuts. Gov. Bev Perdue said last weekend the budget would force 30,000 public employee layoffs.
The House begins debating the $19.3 billion budget tomorrow. Republicans took some time before the opening bell to put out their own numbers.
Republicans put positions lost at 18,500, with thousands of those vacant. According to the Fiscal Research Division, of the 3,200 positions lost in the UNC system, 1,550 are vacant, and of the 2,569 state government jobs cut, 1,365 are vacant.
Community colleges would lose 1,000 positions, and in K-12 , 11,750 positions. Vacancies there have not been determined.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said natural attrition is higher than the number of employees who would be laid off, so there will be opportunties for people who lose their jobs to find others within state government.
The budget puts $201 million in the Rainy Day Fund, $201 million in repairs and renovations, and $298 million into the retirement program, fully funding all those items, said Rep. Harold Brubaker, the budget committee's senior chairman.
"It's a responsible budget brought together to right-size government," he said.
Allowing the temporary sales taxes and income tax surcharges to expire will create private sector jobs through the money it returns to the private sector, Tillis said. "This is not an austerity budget," he said. "It's a prosperity budget."
The two gubernatorial candidates have their themes down.
In their opening statements at a debate at WTVD in Durham tonight, Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Beverly Perdue sketched out the major areas they hope to focus in in the campaign and at the debate.
McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, focused on gangs, mental health care reform and corruption in state politics.
He also joked that his sister, Linda, almost didn't let him into her home because she'd seen a TV ad portraying him as "a danger to the middle class."
Perdue, the lieutenant governor, talked about improving education, creating new jobs and increasing access to health care.
She said she wanted a "new North Carolina" where "families worry less and dream more."
A BlueNC blogger is defending Sen. Walter Dalton's spending bills.
Noting the recent attack by the N.C. Republican Party on Dalton's $277 million in requested appropriations, BlueNC blogger Blue South writes that only the $14 million for the Cleveland Correctional Center is directed at his own district:
Now Linda Daves has attacked Dalton for Pork spending, but if you look of the 277 million, only 14 million would directly benifit Dalton's district, while many would benefit his along with every other rural district in the state. And there is of course no gurantee that bill will get passed or folded into the budget.
Blue South also writes that the bills would benefit "education, jobs and biofuels."