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Morning Memo: A new Dix deal, fallout from Brawley letter

A NEW DIX DEAL: Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane will hold a joint news conference this morning to discuss the Dorothea Dix lease. A state House committee approved a new version of a bill Wednesday that would revoke Raleigh’s disputed lease on the Dorothea Dix property near downtown. The compromise bill comes with a sweetener that has the support of city leaders and the governor’s office.

But the question is whether the Senate will go along. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, said the Senate remains committed to its version of the bill. "As we've clearly seen, the lease was entered into by the state illegally, it is substantially different than what even the Council of State had approved, and it's in the bad interest of the state," he said. "If they need to start, we'll start from scratch. But you can't begin on a foundation that's that weak."

GOP LAWMAKERS REACT TO BRAWLEY LETTER: “If you have a disagreement, that's not how one handles it and I'm saddened," said Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican. "We don't need distractions." Other Republican lawmakers refused to talk about it. "I don't have anything to say," said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican and top GOP leader, said she was surprised by the letter read on the floor. "I thought it was an inappropriate use of the floor by Rep. Brawley." If anything, Samuelson said, "I think it will help bring us together more because it  doesn't represent the majority of the caucus."

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- congrats to the NCGA team on the big win against South Carolina last night. More North Carolina political news below. ***

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Senate will take a final vote on the budget after Democrats put up a futile but hours-long fight the day before. The House has a bill on the calendar to amend the definition of a home school. It is expected to pass without much consternation, especially given that it skipped the House committee process, and go to the governor for a signature. A House committee will also consider a bill to add a new permit that make it easier for those of all ages to go hunting. The Senate starts at 10 a.m.; the House at 1 p.m.

Gov. Pat McCrory: After the Dix event, McCrory will meet with Kosovo's ambassador to the United States and attend the Valor Games closing ceremony at the state fairgrounds. He will also meet with Portugal's ambassador later in the afternoon.

MORE ON THE DIX DEAL:The version from the House judiciary committee bill would allow a year to renegotiate the agreement, signed by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane in December, to lease the state land to the Capital City for use as a destination park. A new agreement could be a lease or sale of the land, and Raleigh would also get a chance to buy a second parcel from the state – the 40-acre Governor Morehead School property directly across Western Boulevard from Dix. Full story.

QUESTION:If McCrory can negotiate a compromise on the park deal, does he get the credit or former Gov. Bev Perdue?

LIST OF GRIEVANCES: A private spat turned very public Wednesday when a Mooresville lawmaker aired a list of grievances against N.C. House Speaker – and fellow Republican – Thom Tillis, even handing over his gavel as co-chair of a powerful committee. “I’m sorry you and I got caught up in a fight,” Rep. Robert Brawley wrote Tillis, in a letter read aloud by the House clerk. Full story.

READ THE LETTER: Here.

DEMOCRATS TRY TO JUMP ON GOP BAD NEWS: Ben Ray at the N.C. Democratic Party issued this memo -- "As a member of Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team jumps ship, the general assembly he and Senate President Phil Berger run is embarrassing North Carolina, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. As each man considers a 2014 U.S. Senate run and news coverage continues to be dominated by an agenda that hurts middle class families, it’s one more cause for hesitation.

"Tough questions about Tillis’ ties to various special interest groups resurfaced this week after Republican Rep. Robert Brawley, who was selected by Tillis to lead the finance committee, wrote a scathing resignation letter accusing Tillis of abusing his position to protect a personal business interest and enabling a monopoly. Meanwhile, Senator Berger has saddled himself with a tax plan that’s 30 points underwater in public opinion. By proposing more than 130 new taxes on North Carolina families, Berger has taken on serious political baggage."

GOP KILLS SENATE DEMS 'SHANAHAN AMENDMENT': State Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined the controversy over public safety chief Kieran Shanahan’s former connections to the law and lobbying firms he started. They proposed prohibiting lobbyists from being married to certain state officials; prohibiting Council of State, non-elected department heads and deputy secretaries from moonlighting; and prohibiting some public servants from using their names in the title of their businesses.

It could have been called the “Shanahan Amendment” as it repeats issues involving the secretary of the Department of Public Safety raised in recent News & Observer stories. But Republicans slapped it down before Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, could finish explaining the proposed amendment to the budget bill “My, my, my,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Republican chairman of the Rules Committee. “We can pick up the newspaper and make things personal. This is just pretty low.” The amendment was tabled without a vote. Full story.

LOST IN THE MADNESS -- SENATE PASSES BUDGET: A heated Senate debate on the $20.6 billion budget proposal centered on a yet-to-be detailed tax overhaul and spending money on education. After more than 3 hours of debate, the Senate tentatively approved the budget along party lines, 33-17. Republicans touted the plan as responsible while Democrats denounced it as short-changing children, the elderly and rural areas. Get a breakdown here.

TESLA BILL LOOKS UNLIKELY IN THE HOUSE: If sales trajectories here continue, Tesla officials say, North Carolina could get a Tesla showroom as early as next year. Customers can’t buy a car or test drive a Tesla at a showroom, which is typically in shopping malls. The sites are simply to entice people to order a Tesla online. But sales here will depend not only on the whims of customers but also on the state legislature.

The N.C. Senate voted unanimously two weeks ago to prohibit online auto sales by manufacturers – a bill that today only affects Tesla. The House will now take up the bill, and Tesla is trying to line up support to counter the politically formidable N.C. Automobile Dealers Association. Full story.

LOOK WHO LIKES THE TESLA: Rep. Mike Hager, "Mr. Anti-Renewable Energy," said he liked the look of the Tesla parked outside the N.C. General Assembly on Wednesday. But then again, he said, it doesn't purr as nicely as his Porche 911 4S.

TILLIS' ALTERNATIVE DAY: Moments after being scolded on the House floor by Rep. Robert Brawley, House Speaker Thom Tillis blew off steam with a Tesla test drive. The verdict? "When you accelerate it, it was the same sort of feeling I got when I test drove a Mustang Boss back when I was probably 23 years old," Tillis said. "Just an amazing feeling."

"When you put your foot on the gas, you're always thinking about whether its going to rrreeeeeerrr," he added, making a high pitch noise. "But it seemed to get quieter and quieter as you get going and the suspension is unreal." As for the legislation, Tillis said he hadn't read the bill yet or taken a position on it. But he sounded reluctant to change the law unless there's a compelling reason. "I know (the dealers) have concerns," he said, "we'll just have to talk with them when they take up the bill in the House. This is technology. You get to the right price point, it fixes a lot of problems in terms of energy independence, in terms of environmental issues."

Earlier in the day, Tillis appeared an event to raise awareness of healthy behaviors and monitoring your blood pressure. He talked about how he goes running four to five times a week and mountain biking as often as possible. And then he professed the benefits of sushi, which he eats about three times a week.

SHIPWRECK AHEAD: The State Auditor released a scathing audit Wednesday questioning whether the state’s new Medicaid claims system, the priciest contract in the history of state government, will be ready to go live in 40 days as scheduled. The audit found a host of problems: The state Department of Health and Human Services did not provide adequate oversight during the testing. Hundreds of critical tests have not been done or have failed. An independent overseer did no independent work. The system, known as NCTracks, has no criteria to determine whether it should go live July 1. In the dry language of auditing and accounting, the report practically shouts that a shipwreck may be ahead. Full story.

JUDICIAL FINANCING ON THE BRINK: Advocates of North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial candidates ramped up their efforts to keep it Wednesday in the face of opposition from Senate Republican leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory. Among other things, they distributed a letter signed by three former governors and more than 200 business leaders – many from Charlotte – in support of the nearly decade-old program. At issue is the program that offers candidates for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals public money for their campaigns. Supporters say it helps immunize judges from the influence of well-financed special interests. Full story.

SIERRA CLUB ENDORSES MARTIN TO REPLACE ROSS: Former Rep. Grier Martin's return bid got a boost this week with a Sierra Club endorsement. From the press release: “Rep. Ross has been a constant advocate for clean and water on Jones Street. Grier Martin is a fitting choice to take the seat and continue the tradition of leadership in the NC House," said Adam James, Chair of the Capital Group of the N.C. Sierra Club. which is based in Raleigh. "During his previous four terms in the State House, Rep. Martin was an advocate for clean air, clean water and natural places that make North Carolina special. We are confident that he will continue to work to protect North Carolina’s environment, for our families and for our future.”  

540 TOLL ROAD LIKELY TO SURVIVE: State legislators are erasing a 2011 law that blocked progress on a toll-road project to extend the 540 Outer Loop across southern Wake County – and they are killing a different part of the law that instructs the state Department of Transportation to actually build the road. Full story.

FOXX SURVIVES HEARING: Anthony Foxx avoided the controversy of other Capitol Hill hearings Wednesday, receiving a mostly warm reception from senators who considered his nomination to become transportation secretary. Foxx probably will get easy confirmation by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, followed by the full Senate, as most nominees to head the Department of Transportation have before him. Full story.

NC IN MIDDLE OF CONGRESSIONAL TOBACCO FIGHT: The U.S. Senate this week has started to fine-tune the huge, new five-year farm bill, working through votes on a series of amendments that will include a proposal to eliminate federal subsidies for tobacco insurance. North Carolina is the nation’s No. 1 tobacco producer, and the state’s senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, said Tuesday that they’d fight the amendment. Full story.

NC MAN KILLED IN DRONE STRIKE: The Obama administration confirmed Wednesday that a Raleigh man wanted on federal terrorism charges was killed in an overseas drone strike. Jude Kenan Mohammad is one of four Americans confirmed as being killed by drones in either Pakistan or Yeman since 2009, according to a letter sent to Congress by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder's letter gave no details about exactly when or where Mohammad was killed. Full story.

BONUS LINK: FEDERAL BEER FIGHT Unlike the beer legislation in North Carolina, the effort in the nation’s capital to tweak federal law looks as opaque as a rich stout. The beer industry is asking Congress for a big tax break that it says would lead to expansion and more jobs. But brewers large and small don’t seem to agree on how much each should pay, with the Beer Institute and the Brewers Association pitching different bills to cut federal excise taxes. The split interests mean it is it less likely either bill will make significant progress and North Carolina breweries could stand to lose. More from the Pintful beer column.

CENSUS SHOWS GROWTH PATTERNS: Rolesville and Knightdale have become the fastest-growing towns in Wake County, an indication that the population growth that was once concentrated on the west side of the county near Research Triangle Park has spread to the east. Both towns have grown by more than 10 percent in the two years ending last July, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Two other Wake towns, Morrisville and Fuquay-Varina, grew by just under 10 percent during that time.

The census bureau makes annual population estimates for cities and towns between the comprehensive decennial count, last done in April 2010. Among the other findings from the numbers released Thursday:

• Eight of the top 20 fastest growing towns in the state since the 2010 census were in Wake County.

• Raleigh had an estimated 423,179 residents last year and has passed Omaha to become the 42nd most populous city in the country. Raleigh was the 48th most populous city in 2000.

• Durham grew by more than 10,000 residents, to 239,358, a 4.4 percent increase since 2010. Among cities with more than 100,000 residents in the state, only Cary and Charlotte grew at a faster clip.

• In the year ending last July, more than a third of the state’s 552 cities and towns lost population.


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