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Morning Memo: Tillis dodges shutdown questions; McHenry pressed on Obamacare

TILLIS DODGES GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN QUESTION: Republican Thom Tillis is emphasizing his opposition to the federal health care law in his campaign for the U.S. Senate but at the same time he's avoiding answering some questions on the issue. A Democratic Party operative recently asked the Republican House speaker about whether he agrees with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others who suggested shutting down government to defund the federal health care law.

While walking to a recent D.C. fundraiser, Tillis didn't offer a direct answer -- even though if elected he may face similar circumstance. "It's not my decision to make but anything we could do to slow down or eliminate Obamacare would be good for the nation," he said in a video posted online. (Watch above.)

Does Tillis agree with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr that a shutdown is the "dumbest idea" ever? Again no answer. "I'm going to leave that to the duly elected senators but i think we can do to stop Sen. Hagan and President Obama from creating all the uncertainty and cost that comes with Obamacare it would be a good thing," he said. Expect both questions to return soon.

***See the Tillis video below in the Dome Morning Memo, along with another video from Republicans punking people at the "Moral Monday" rally.

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.

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.

McCrory continues candidate dance as he blasts Perdue

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.

Republicans quick to recast Democrats' tour

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. 

New liberal group takes aim at GOP lawmakers

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 praise their budget

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."

Perdue and McCrory's themes

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."

Blue South defends Dalton spending bills

Walter DaltonA 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."

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