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Morning Memo: Ahead of 2014 race, Berger, Tillis hit by national Democrats

2014 WATCH: National Democrats hit potential GOP candidates Tillis, Berger on Ryan budget. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis are making enough moves toward challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagain in 2014 that they are attracting the attention of national Democrats. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is asking whether the two Republicans support Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan. "Republicans in Washington are back with their Medicare-busting budget plan, but potential GOP Senate hopefuls Phil Berger and Thom Tillis have yet to tell North Carolinians where they stand," starts a statement from the DSCC set for release later Tuesday.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House will consider a bill to curtail local building design standards that local mayors want stopped dead in its tracks (more below) as well as a measure to limit tanning beds for those under age 18. House convenes at 1 p.m.; Senate convenes at 2 p.m. Gov. Pat McCrory will make a school safety announcement in Apex in the morning.

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo — the source for exclusive North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Read more below.***

DSCC SPIN: From the release — “North Carolinians deserve to know if Phil Berger and Thom Tillis support the Republican budget that would have disastrous consequences for North Carolina seniors, students, and middle class families,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Under the GOP’s anti-Medicare plan, seniors would pay more for health care and millions would be forced into a voucher program when they retire. The Republican budget isn’t just dangerous for seniors, it’s devastating for all North Carolinians— putting tax breaks for millionaires and special interests ahead of creating jobs and making college more affordable, and it’s time for Phil Berger and Thom Tillis to take a position.”

BERGER, TILLIS ON RYAN: The Democratic push-back against Tillis and Berger mirrors recent statements challenging actual Republican candidates across the country. But for the GOP lawmakers it is a potent question after they cozied next to Ryan at a GOP event last year. Both Tillis and Berger told Dome they supported Ryan's efforts in 2012 to write a balanced budget, even though they avoided addressing the cuts to entitlement programs that Democrats are highlighting.

FROM THE DOME ARCHIVES: "Tillis suggested elements of the (Ryan's former) plan are a model for North Carolina, particularly eliminating taxes and loopholes. Asked whether Ryan's plan is comparable to what the legislature is doing at the state level, Tillis said "absolutely."

"If you take a look at our strategy for broadening the (tax) base and lowering the (tax) rate ... and eliminating loopholes, it's exactly the same framework," he said.

Berger said he isn't familiar with the details of Ryan's budget but said it "is clearly a step in a more positive direction" than what Democrats are proposing in Washington."

2014 WATCH: Dem super PAC adds N.C.-native, Obama campaign veteran to its board: Julianna Smoot, a North Carolina native and former top political fundraiser for President Barack Obama, is now on the board at Majority PAC, Politico reported. The Democratic super PAC is gearing up for 2014 U.S. Senate races — including North Carolina's Kay Hagan's re-election battle. The PAC spent $38 million in the 2012 cycle. Susan McCue, co-chairwoman of Majority PAC, told Politico that she hired Smoot because of her track record and fundraising Rolodex from the Obama campaign and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

STATE'S JOBLESS RATE INCHES HIGHER to 9.5%: The state’s unemployment rate inched up in January as North Carolina’s labor force grew at a much faster rate than it created jobs. North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 9.5 percent, the state Division of Employment Security reported Monday. The rate is now just one-tenth of a percentage point below where it stood 12 months ago. It remains well above the national rate of 7.7 percent.

North Carolina’s labor force grew by 0.2 percent in January while the number of people employed grew by just 0.1 percent, according to a survey of households. The growth in the state’s labor force reflects the fact that North Carolina continues to add new residents despite having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist in Charlotte. “We continue to import job seekers from other parts of the country, which makes it even tougher for us to lower the unemployment rate,” he said. Full story.

MUST DOWNLOAD: The N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation team recently released its analysis of the N.C. Senate races from 2012, finding the average cost to win a seat was $165,228 — even though others exceeded $1 million. Get the report here.

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MIXED MESSAGES: An astute Dome reader noted that a a recent story posted to the Republican's N.C. House Legislative Partners site actually criticizes the GOP's legislative priorities. The "Latest News" tab features an N&O editorial titled "A GOP cash cow." The first paragraph (which appears on the site) says this: "You have to give the Republicans now in charge on Jones Street this: They might have their legislative priorities wrong with a series of woefully misguided actions to deny Medicaid health care coverage to thousands of people (despite the federal government footing the bill) and to curb unemployment benefits (which also would have been paid by the feds) to people who desperately need them, but they’re getting the fundraising game down pat."

GENERAL ASSEMBLY COP ARRESTED ON SEX CHARGES: A veteran officer of the General Assembly police force has been arrested on sexual offense charges involving children dating back to 2002. Daniel Shawn Evans, 42, was arrested at the Legislative Office Building on Friday morning by a Wake County sheriff’s investigator. Evans was charged with nine counts, including attempted first-degree rape and statutory rape. Evans, of 5908 Applewood Lane in Raleigh, resigned from the General Assembly Special Police effective Monday, Chief Jeff Weaver said. Evans had been on the force since 1998, Weaver said. Full story.

MAYORS SOUND ALARM ON HB150: In what they described as a “dire emergency,” a group of Wake County mayors held a press conference Monday to warn communities of a proposed bill that would limit local governments’ ability to set design standards for residential housing. The N.C. House is expected to vote Tuesday on House Bill 150, which prohibits towns from withholding building permits based on a builder’s proposed building materials, architectural design or exterior color, among other design elements. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and primary sponsor of the bill, says he introduced it to spur residential development in areas where some local governments have “overstepped their bounds” and dictated the local market.

But most of Wake’s mayors argued Monday that such standards are key to protecting property values and molding aesthetically pleasing communities. They said citizens – not the government – lead the formation of housing standards through local committees. “This bill … takes away the power of citizens to have input with their local officials. Full story.

KINNAIRD BILL CALLS FOR STUDY OF STATE-RUN BANK: In a state that’s a hub for banking, an N.C. senator is sponsoring a bill that even she admits has little chance of passage. Her measure calls for a study of a potential state-owned bank. Eleanor Kinnaird, a Chapel Hill Democrat who says she has “very little love for this industry,” is the primary – and so far only – sponsor for Senate Bill 150, which calls for the creation of a commission to study the impact of a state-owned bank that would receive deposits of state funds.

If Kinnaird is successful, North Carolina would become the second state to have a state-owned bank. The only state with one is North Dakota. Kinnaird’s bill doesn’t call for the creation of a state-run bank – only a study on the issue – but if such a bank were created, public dollars that state agencies now deposit in privately run banks would be deposited into the state-run bank.

PERSONNEL FILE: Speaking of banking, McCrory appointed Ray Grace as the Commissioner of Banks. Grace is currently the acting commissioner in charge of regulating and chartering state banks. He served as director of bank applications before becoming commissioner. The governor also appointed Lisa Bell of Mecklenburg County as a N.C. Special Superior Court Judge. She served as chief district court judge since 2009 and is a former family court attorney.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest recently made his three appointees to the Rural Economic Development Board. He named Cicely McCulloch, a town commissioner in Elkin and the owner of Diane's Bookstore for more than 20 years; J. Rockland Proffit, a manufacturing company president from Mooresville; and Brendan Jones, a small business owner in Tabor City who serves on the Columbus County Board of Elections.

PROGRESS ENERGY GRILLED ON RATE HIKES:Last year’s merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy came back to haunt Progress on Monday as critic after critic grilled company executives on sweetheart deals designed to spare large utility customers a rate increase. Progress, which promised its industrial customers price breaks worth millions of dollars in exchange for supporting its $32 billion merger with Duke, faced stinging criticism for those deals during the first day of rate hearings before the N.C. Utilities Commission.

SECRET DEALS: The deals were never meant to be public because Duke and Progress considered them to contain “trade secrets.” But the N.C. Utilities Commission, in response to a request from media outlets and Durham advocacy group NC WARN, unsealed the files last year, erasing any tactical advantage Progress would have gained from their secrecy. On Monday, lawyers for commercial businesses, the U.S. Department of Defense, the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Public Staff consumer protection agency took turns challenging the logic of unilateral price breaks for nearly 4,000 industrial customers. Many said their clients are likewise very large and important employers and also deserve a pass on any rate increase. Full story.

MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM AT BREAKING POINT: Two of Charlotte’s top medical leaders told a Monday night forum on emergency mental health care that the system is at the breaking point. Dr. Roger Ray, chief medical officer for Carolinas HealthCare System, described the situation as a “bona fide crisis.” Dr. Greg Clary, head of Presbyterian Hospital’s psychiatric wing, said the needs of the state’s mental health care are as familiar as they are complex. “De-institutionalization took place in the ’60s,” Clary said. “We’ve been chasing our tails ever since.” Full story.


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State-run bank?

I thought we already had one: The State Employees Credit Union.

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