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Morning Memo: GOP fundraising, Rural Center face major questions

GOP ABANDONS PLEDGE FOR TAX REFORM: From Rob Christensen's column: Tax reform in North Carolina died last week. RIP. …The House has rolled out its plan, and the Senate has rolled out an alternative plan. Those plans focus almost exclusively on cutting corporate and personal income taxes, rather than revamping the 1930s tax code. So tax reform is dead. In its place, we have large tax cuts, the size and shape of which will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Cutting taxes is in the Republican comfort zone. Reforming the tax code is not. Full story.

LOBBYING FIRM ACTED AS TILLIS, McCRORY FUNDRAISING CONDUIT: The giving by the sweepstakes industry also puts a spotlight on fundraising efforts organized by McGuireWoods. Multiple contributions from sweepstakes operators were often recorded on the same days, with the largest group coming on May 16, 2012, when the Tillis campaign tallied a total of $60,002 from 19 individuals. Days earlier, on May 10, McGuireWoods held a fundraiser at its Raleigh office attended by Payne and lobbyists from other organizations. Harry Kaplan, a McGuireWoods lobbyist, said he invited clients who were interested in meeting with Tillis to talk about the issues they represented. They could also make campaign contributions, which some did, he said.

***More on Tillis, McCrory campaign fundraising, the sweepstakes industry and questions clouding the N.C. Rural Center and top Republicans below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Gift ban repeal dead, Hahn investigation seeks motive

TILLIS SAYS LOBBYIST GIFT BAN WILL REMAIN INTACT: House Speaker Thom Tillis took to Twitter this week to declare Republican Robert Brawley's bill to lift the ban on lobbyists giving lawmakers gifts is dead. "Benny, does the fact that the bill is dead give you any idea?" @thomtillis wrote. The speaker's office confirmed the 10:10 p.m. Tuesday tweet was legit. Tillis addressed the response to Benjamin Ray, an operative at the N.C. Democratic Party pushing Tillis on the issue and tying it to his office's controversial past with lobbyists and the fact the bill came from one of his committee chairman.

MOTIVE FOR JAMIE HAHN'S STABBING TURNS TO CAMPAIGN MONEY: As the Triangle mourned slain political strategist Jamie Hahn on Wednesday, attention turned to whether the man who police say stabbed her had made questionable campaign finance reports while working for Hahn’s firm. More on the story below.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- click below for much, much more from a busy day in N.C. politics. Send news and tips to ***

Perdue's final days at the helm

Gov. Bev Perdue is spending her final full day as the state's chief executive touring two schools in Onslow County on Friday. The visits put her final focus on one of her top issues: education.

Perdue and her husband have been gradually moving items from the Executive Mansion in the past few weeks. But will move the final boxes Saturday morning. At noon, the Democratic governor plans to attend Gov.-elect Pat McCrory's noon swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol before departing for the final time.

Gov. Perdue touts digital learning efforts in her final days

Pat McCrory took the spotlight Wednesday with his economic speech. As he did Gov. Bev Perdue visited an Orange County school to highlight what she sees as one of her top achievements.

The Durham Herald-Sun attended the event: "In three different classrooms, the governor observed students using Lenovo laptops to work on Google documents, conduct virtual science experiments and analyze poetry.

“This is too cool,” Perdue said. “I’ve lived in Orange County for 13 years and this school’s always at the top. I’m really proud.”

Sales tax increase, higher school spending in Perdue's proposed budget

The proposed budget Gov. Bev Perdue releases tomorrow will include a sales tax increase and an additional $562 million for K-12 schools.

Her proposed budget will total about $20.9 billion. A 3/4-cent sales tax increase is expected to raise $760 million over 11 months, or $850 million a year.

Republican legislative leaders have said repeatedly they do not intend to raise taxes.

Perdue's proposed education budget increase would make up for the loss of $258 million in federal "edu-jobs' money, and reverse the "flex cuts"  school districts had to take last year and are built in to next year's budget.  The $562 million would pay for 11,000 additional jobs in schools, and would be enough to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grades. Total K-12 spending would rise to about $8 billion.

Perdue denounces budget ad

Gov. Bev Perdue denounced a television ad being run by Americans for Prosperity about education spending, saying it "muddies the water."

"I'm asking them to pull this ad down, to stop trying to distort the truth," Perdue said this morning.

Dallas Woodhouse, Americans for Prosperity state director, said the ad is "100 percent accurate and truthful," and of course, they're going to keep running it.  "We're going to continue to tell the truth about what this budget did," he said.

Berger challenges Perdue to debate taxes

Senate leader Phil Berger challenged Gov. Bev Perdue to a debate over her plan to put a 3/4-cent sales tax increase into her budget proposal. Perdue said the revenue is needed for education.

Berger said Perdue is running a media campaign with news releases and public appearances, what he called "a one-sided debate" over the tax increase. He wants to respond.

"Let's give the people of North Carolina the opportunity to hear you articulate your rationale for why increasing taxes is the right thing to do at this time, and I will be in a position to articulate the position that the legislature has taken at this time, that that's not the right thing to do," Berger said.

After Berger, an Eden Republican announced his challenge, House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said he wanted in too.

Looks like it's not going to happen, though. 

Perdue spokeswoman Christine Mackey said no, calling the debate challenge the legislative leaders' attempt to divert attention from the consequences of their budget.

“Republican leaders in the General Assembly need to stop wasting time with cheap stunts meant to distract attention from the damage they’ve done to North Carolina’s schools. They should stand up and take responsibility for passing a budget that eliminated more than 1,700 teacher positions and nearly 2,300 teacher assistant positions this year. Rather than playing useless political games, they should get to work and find a way to reverse the damage they’ve caused, and to prevent the even deeper cuts that are coming next year. North Carolina’s school children don’t need petty campaign theatrics; they need leaders who will make education a priority.”

Berger said he wanted to talk about the impact of this year's budget on education jobs and debate the notion that the Democrats' approach is best.

"I don't accept the premise that Democrat policy is good for education and Republican policy is not so good," Berger said.

He suggested that Perdue is employing a strategy of her reelection campaign.  Consultants say "the governor's path to reelection is most likely to be successful if she can pick a fight with the legislature," he said. "What I think you're seeing is her picking that fight."

Perdue appoints members to new ed commission

Gov. Bev Perdue's office announced today that she signed an executive order creating the Governor's Education Transformation Commission.

The commission is to oversee use of the federal Race to the Top grant and coordinate grant-funded efforts with Perdue's "Ready, Set, Go!" program. Perdue can give the commission up to $30,000 from the grant to support its work.

The group is big - 25 members - including State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. As previously announced, Harrison is its leader.

Plenty of the usual players will be seated around the giant meeting table: representatives from the school boards association, the PTA, and the N.C. Association of Educators, for example. 

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, State Superintendent June Atkinson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman, Education Cabinet Executive Director (and former state senator) Howard Lee, and Mark Sorrells, senior vice president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, are members, as are a couple of teachers of the year.

Voices from outside the echo chamber may come from Cynthia Marshall, state Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, the managing director of a Durham charter school, and Erin Swanson Oschwald, executive director of Teach for America/Eastern North Carolina.

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