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Morning Memo: 5 big questions for Pat McCrory's first budget plan

McCRORY'S BUDGET DEBUTS TODAY: Gov. Pat McCrory will unveil his first state budget proposal at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday -- a document that will help define his legislative agenda and vision for the state. Here are five questions he will face:

1. THE STATUS QUO OR BIG IDEAS? The state budget is as much a policy document as it is a line-item spending plan. Does McCrory offer big ideas to overhaul state government, such as a tax overhaul or major spending cuts, or put forward a status quo budget with few changes from the previous years?

2. WHO'S BUDGET IS THIS -- McCRORY'S OR POPE'S? State Budget Director Art Pope knows the innards of state government from his time as a lawmaker. But he is a polarizing figure in some political spheres and Democrats are looking for his fingerprints, ideological and otherwise, on the spending plan.

3. HOW DOES THE BUDGET ADDRESS UNDERPAID TEACHERS, OR STATE EMPLOYEES? McCrory's budget comes days after a new report showed the state's teachers ranked No. 48 in the nation in pay. Does the governor acknowledge this and offer them a raise? And likewise with state employees, who received a minimal 1.2 percent salary bump last year after years without pay increases -- do they get any love?

4. HOW DOES THIS BUDGET HELP CREATE JOBS?Following the GOP mantra that everything is about jobs this legislative session, what does the budget do in terms of economic development, incentives and job creation?

5. WILL LAWMAKERS TAKE IT SERIOUSLY? McCrory is the new governor with an approval rating higher than state lawmakers, but the lawmakers craft the budget. Will they stick closely to McCrory's draft or go their own direction?

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo, the source for North Carolina political analysis and news. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com. And click below to read possible answers to the questions above.***

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: State lawmakers get a formal presentation on the governor's budget Thursday morning, but the reactions will come quickly Wednesday after its release. The House and Senate convene at 2 p.m. Earlier in the day, a House committee will consider a contentious gun bill. Outside the legislature at noon, women's health advocates will hold a “Not In Her Shoes" rally to tell lawmakers to stay out of women's personal health decisions.

HANDICAPPING THE ANSWERS: 1. Don't expect much in the way of big ideas. McCrory's office released a campaign commercial-styled video previewing the budget that suggests it will hold the line on spending and sew closely to his modest legislative agenda. 2. The Pope storyline is likely overexposed, though how he uses his muscle with the legislature to help McCrory remains to be seen. 3. If McCrory is preaching the "no new money" line, there probably isn't enough for raises. But the longer Republicans in power avoid the teacher-pay topic, the longer Democrats hammer them with it. 4. McCrory still seems uncertain about the state's incentive programs, so major changes are unlikely at this point. And lawmakers say major income tax cuts the governor argues are needed for economic development are not expected in the budget. 5.Republican legislative leaders will remain polite in the first days, but the Senate's been drafting its budget outline for weeks, too. The end product will give McCrory enough victories to save face, but expect legislative leaders to control their share of the purse strings.

A LONG LIST OF SERVICES THAT LAWMAKERS ARE CONSIDERING TAXING: Efforts to overhaul the tax system have failed in recent years. One reason: lists like this outlining the roughly 130 services Republican lawmakers are considering taxing to offset cuts to income taxes. There's enough special interests on this list to put up a good fight. North Carolina lawmakers are considering putting a sales tax on any service that is taxed in at least one other state. The list of nearly 170 types of services is based on a 2007 survey from the Federation of Tax Administrators, an industry professional group. It includes car washes, landscaping, water, debt counseling, dating services, taxidermy, newspapers, bowling alleys, most labor costs, pet grooming, investment counseling, and professional services offered by attorneys, accountants, veterinarians and physicians.

HOUSE TO UNVEIL ITS TAX OUTLINE: Republicans made an overhaul of the state’s tax system a top issue this legislative session, but the dialogue remains behind closed doors as the House and Senate work to craft a consensus plan before introducing legislation. The secrecy is a point of objection among the Democrats in the minority. Rep. David Lewis, a Republican leading the effort in the House, said he expects his colleagues to debut their own outline for a tax overhaul before the end of the month – amplifying the negotiation efforts with Senate leaders, who put forth a conceptual plan earlier this year. “We are looking at broadening the base and trying to figure out what will spur additional economic growth and employment in the state,” he said. Full story.

BERGER PUSHES FOR MORE EDUCATION REFORMS: The state Senate leader on Tuesday unveiled a second wave of measures he said would serve to hold schools and teachers more accountable for students’ progress. He proposed ending teacher tenure, limiting the amount of time spent on testing for final exams, grading entire schools and an emphasis on literacy. “The days of accepting a broken education system in North Carolina are over,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said at a news conference at which he was flanked by several Republican senators who signed onto the bill as sponsors. “We must continue to demand better and positive change for our kids.” Full story.

GOVERNOR NAMES SUPREME COURT JUSTICE'S WIFE TO LEAD NEW CENTER: Responding to concerns growing out of the Newtown school massacre, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Tuesday the creation of a new center to study ways to make North Carolina’s schools safer. McCrory said he was he was creating a Center for Safer Schools, headed by veteran Wake County school teacher Kym Martin, to serve as a clearinghouse to gather information on what schools across the state are doing to make their facilities safer. The center will be housed in the Department of Public Safety, and McCrory said he will provide funding for it when he unveils his budget recommendations on Wednesday. Martin is the wife of Associate Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin -- who is in line to become chief justice. AP reported she will make $72,000 a year. Full story.

DEMOCRATS WIN MORE VOTES, REPUBLICANS MORE SEATS IN CONGRESS: North Carolina has become a poster-child for gerrymandered districts, and Bloomberg News is the latest to take note of the 2012 popular vote. Here's the story about the lopsided result and here's a sweet graphic breaking down the vote.

WAKE COUNTY GOP ANNOUNCES KEYNOTE: The Wake County Republican Party convention March 26 will feature Transportation Secretary Tony Tata as the keynote speaker.

UNDER FIRE, STATE LOTTERY TOUTS AUDIT: The N.C. Education Lottery is highlighting an independent audit calling its performance "exceptional." The audit, done every two years as required by state law, cited the lottery's "prudent cost-benefit approach" as it highlighted increased sales since 2008. The audit also notes -- "for the second time," the lottery said -- that the state law restricting advertising reduces its ability to sell more tickets. All this comes as House Speaker Pro Tem Paul "Skip" Stam advances legislature to effectively neuter the lottery by placing further restrictions on its games and advertising. One restriction being proposed: the lottery can't mention independent auditors reviewed its work.

GOV. OFFICE CLIPS ITS CLIPS: McCrory's newsletter sent Tuesday includes clips -- news and press release -- spotlighting his work. Democrats took note of one clip used in the newsletter titled "Editorial: McCrory takes pragmatic view of Medicaid." The clip comes from the Rocky Mount Telegram. The newsletter includes the first two paragraphs and an ellipsis. The next sentence (which was not included): "Republican legislative leaders ignored his request." It's not unlike what McCrory's campaign did at times in the election.

HOUSE OKs LOCAL LIMITS ON HOUSING STANDARDS: Despite calls for compromise, the N.C. House on Tuesday voted 94 to 22 to pass a bipartisan bill that limits the power of local governments to regulate residential housing based on their design or appearance. The state Senate is expected to take up the bill as early as next week. The bill would prohibit towns from withholding building permits based on a builder’s design elements such as his building materials or garage size. It exempts houses deemed historic by the state as well as private covenants or other contractual agreements, including those adopted by homeowners associations. Full story.

SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS, START YOUR ENGINES: A first-year legislator from Union County is tired of getting stuck behind slow-poke school buses on high-speed highways, so he’s pushing legislation to let school bus drivers go faster. State law sets 45 mph as the top legal speed for school buses that have children aboard, and 55 mph for school activity buses. Buses going those speeds are common sights on Triangle highways where most traffic is going at least the speed limit of 65 or 70 mph. Drivers are allowed to go the posted speed limit if there are no children on the bus, but most school buses are equipped with speed governors that make 45 mph the permanent top speed. Full story.

McCRORY'S TRANSPORTATION BOARD MEMBERS STUCK IN TRAFFIC: Gov. Pat McCrory has picked 10 new members for the 19-member state Board of Transportation, and he's hoping to seat them at the board's next meeting April 4. But the governor could be forced to cancel the April meeting -- just as he canceled the March meeting-- because he still hasn't submitted his appointee list to a legislative committee responsible for reviewing it. McCrory did submit a letter March 1 to Denise Weeks, the principal House clerk but he didn't send it to any members of the House-Senate Joint Transportation Oversight Committee, which is responsible under state law for reviewing the names. …McCrory's office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, but committee members said they had not heard of any plans to consider the board appointees. Full story.


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