Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Commerce pushes overhaul, dueling tax campaigns emerge

SECRETARY TO PITCH COMMERCE PRIVATIZATION PLAN: Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker will appear before a House panel Wednesday to pitch Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to privatize elements of the state's economic recruitment effort. Decker sent a memo to lawmakers with the talking points about the N.C. Economic Development Corporation a day earlier. She highlighted the efficiencies that McCrory's administration believes will be realized by consolidating various existing entities, including the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, some of the N.C. Biotechnology Center and the tourism and film offices, among others, in a private nonprofit entity led by political appointees. She will describe a phase-in approach in her testimony. McCrory's team drafted the outline for the private-public partnership -- funded mostly by taxpayer dollars -- before he ever took office. Tony Almeida, the governor's top economic adviser who will lead the effort, wrote a white paper, finalized in December, as a member of McCrory's transition team that laid out the vision. (More below.)

DUELING TAX CAMPAIGNS: Americans for Prosperity began airing a TV ad on cable and broadcast that touts Republican leaders commitment to a tax overhaul. Meanwhile, the Young Democrats will debut an effort Wednesday to criticize the Senate plan with a web ad highlighting the hike in grocery taxes and and a new website, which is designed to counter Senate Republicans Check Dome later today to see both.

***More North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo -- including a rundown of the day's top stories.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The big stories today -- House budget committees start the day at 8:30 a.m. The House Commerce committee meets at 10 a.m. At the same time, a Senate education panel will consider the House bill to require cursive and memorization of multiplication tables. The noon Public Utilities committee meeting will let Democrats and others air concerns about the appointment of former utilities lawyer Chris Ayers to represent rate payers at the N.C. Public Staff. His connections to the Poyner and Spruill law firm may also raise issues about his confirmation. And at 1 p.m. the GOP-led House Elections Committee will hear a bill to redraw Wake school board districts in a way likely to benefit Republicans. Both chambers convene at 2 p.m. The House will vote on Senate Bill 334, the Dix lease compromise plan backed by the governor and the city of Raleigh. Once given final approved, an epic conference committee will begin with a hostile Senate.

FROM THE COMMERCE WHITE PAPER: On the campaign trail, McCrory said he wanted a complete evaluation of the state's economic incentives policies -- but the broad sweep envisioned in the white paper drafted by one of the now-top advisers to the governor goes much further. Titled "A Case for Moving State Economic Development Functions to a Public-Private Partnership," the document outlines how shrinking state dollars and uncertain federal funds require a new approach. It points to models in Florida, Indiana, Virginia Utah, Missouri and Michigan as a guide. But it acknowledges that "a significant portion" of the entity's funding would come from the state. Businesses and corporations could also buy memberships much like a Chamber of Commerce. The paper acknowledges that "other states' experiences with public-private partnerships have not been without issue," but says North Carolina can do it better.

TAX ADDENDUM: As a footnote to the YD's attack on the Senate's tax plan -- why are they the first to this punch? Combined with the N.C. Justice Center, which is a nonprofit opining against the tax efforts, the two groups are providing more resistance to the hallmark legislative issue this session than the N.C. Democratic Party and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses together. What does that say about the state of the Democratic Party in North Carolina?

THIS WEEK: Senate Republicans are expected to roll out their actual tax bill this week. Yes, the legislation and not just the concept/vision/outline that has floated for weeks. This bill will prove the devil-in-the-details axiom true.

AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY TO THE RESCUE: To help generate support for Republican legislative leaders tax overhaul efforts, AFP is preparing to spend the first of what it promises is a $500,000 campaign to support lawmakers' work. The new ad campaign touts the new crop of Republican leaders, showing picture of Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger. They, too, created a new website:

DEMOCRATS TODAY: House and Senate Democrats will hold press conferences Wednesday about topics of waning time significance. At 9:30 a.m., House Minority Leader Larry Hall will discuss the House Education Committee's approval of a voucher bill a day after it was immediately relevant and passed a committee. And at noon, Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt will talk about the Senate Budget, which the chamber approved last week and the House is now dismantling.

MOONEYHAM: McCRORY GETS PAT ON THE HEAD FROM LEGISLATURE: Scott Mooneyham's column from the Daily Advance -- "Two months ago, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that he planned a major overhaul of the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor that would involve private companies managing care. Then came a pronouncement, just days before the state Senate unveiled its proposed budget, that McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis had “joined forces” on Medicaid reform. The news release went on to talk about the governor’s vision for providing “care for the whole person” and improving administrative efficiency. It touted a coming Senate budget provision to push along the process.
The words omitted from the announcement were as noteworthy as those included. “Private” or “privatize” were nowhere on the page.

"As for that Senate budget provision, a careful reading shows that it is no ringing endorsement of McCrory’s approach. It tells the governor and his health chiefs to come up with a plan; lays out some requirements for how the plan will be tested and implemented; requires some study on potential cost savings and risks; and then says legislators will have the final say in deciding whether to do any of it. That’s right. Those legislative leaders who have joined forces with McCrory have told him to create “but not implement” a Medicaid reform plan.

"In other words, legislators have given Pat the ol’ pat on the head and told him, “Now, you run off and be a good boy.” Sure, they allowed him to save a little face. The budget provision, though, makes clear who will be in charge.

"…Setting aside the Medicaid reform debate, the recent moves provide more evidence that a rookie governor without a lot of experience in state government has yet to find his footing. He needs to find it soon. Otherwise legislative bulldogs will keep knocking him to the ground. They will smile, help him up and dust him off. And then they will do it again, and again, and again." Full column.

WHICH IS MORE CONSERVATIVE: HOUSE OR SENATE? Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer writes on WFAE's blog The Party Line about new research looking at which chamber is more conservative --- "(Of) the House conferences and Senate caucuses in the North Carolina General Assembly, the Republican Senate caucus has been the most conservative group in the state legislature since 1996. State Republican senators have ranged consistently in the more conservative end of the spectrum, with their Republican brethren in the NC House having been moving more and more conservative in their orientation.  Among the Democrats in the legislature, the House conference has remained consistent in its moderate-to-liberal leanings, while the Senate caucus has moved, in recent times, from being more liberal towards a more moderate stance.

"But what does this tell us about whether the North Carolina legislative parties are more “hard right” or “hard left?”  One way to approach this is to compare the parties to the other Southern states. Two interesting patterns emerge. Among the lower chambers from 1996-2010, North Carolina’s GOP conference started out in a fairly “moderate” scoring, being grouped with such states as Tennessee, Virginia, and Florida. But like our neighboring state to the west, NC’s GOP conference has moved more conservative, almost landing in between the moderate states and the more conservative states of Texas and Alabama, for example. 

"The second interesting pattern was among Democrats in the senate (upper) chambers.­­ Three distinct groupings appear in over the 1996-2010 time period: a grouping of fairly moderate Democratic caucuses (Louisiana to Alabama, though most all have moved more liberal in the past few years); a second grouping of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia; and a third and distinctly more liberal grouping of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina. For the year 2008 (the most recent with all the Southern states represented), North Carolina’s Democratic House delegation ranked as the fifth most liberal among the Southern states, behind Florida, Texas, Virginia and Georgia, while the Republican House conference was eighth most conservative in the region. In the upper chambers, North Carolina’s Democratic Senate caucus tied for the second most liberal group, with Florida being the most liberal for its respective Democratic senators.  Conversely, the North Carolina Republican senate caucus was the fifth most conservative, being bested by the GOP senate conferences in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas." Read much more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Gov. Pat McCrory recently reappointed Dr. John B. Ludlow, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, to the N.C. Dental Society and Dr. Holly Burge of Wake County to the N.C. Medical Society. He also reappointed Dr. David Kirlin of Gaston County to the N.C. State Board of Podiatry Examiners after being nominated by his peers.

VOUCHERS ON PATH TO APPROVAL IN HOUSE: The 27-21 vote in the House Education Committee was a significant victory for lawmakers who support what they call “opportunity scholarships,” operators of private and religious schools, and parents who want to remove their children from public schools. Supporters have been working for years on a way to provide tuition assistance for K-12 parents through vouchers or tax credits.

Though the measure still needs to get through at least one more House committee and win approval from the full House and Senate, Tuesday’s vote gives the plan to have taxpayer money pay for private K-12 schools momentum it has never before had in the state. The bill would spend $50 million over two years on vouchers: $10 million in the next school year to send 2,000 students, and $40 million the following year for an additional 7,000 students. The Senate did not include money for vouchers in the budget it passed last week, but the grants may find a receptive Senate audience if the House approves them. Full story.

FERRY TOLLS IS A NUMBERS GAME: The state’s plan to start charging new and increased ferry tolls in July has been postponed for a second time, and legislators have moved into a new round of arguments over which ferry routes – if any – should stay toll-free. Full story.

STATE FILES SECOND SUIT AGAINST DUKE ENERGY: North Carolina has filed a second lawsuit against Duke Energy in a move that puts the state’s claim that coal ash poses a threat to Charlotte’s water supply before a Mecklenburg County court. On Friday, the division filed a separate lawsuit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court solely about Riverbend, which is operated by Duke Energy Carolinas. The substance of both actions, in which the state calls ash “a serious danger” if not addressed, is the same. Full story.

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