REPUBLICANS MOVE TO CURTAIL EARLY VOTING: Republicans are moving in the final days of the legislative session to cut early voting by a week, limit Sunday voting and curtail some voter registration efforts in a sweeping bill that is expected to debut Tuesday. The measure also may advance the state's presidential primary to a week after South Carolina's first-in-the-South contest. The last-minute election measures will appear in a Senate bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. (Check Dome for more on the bill later today.)
EDUCATION FOCUS OF BUDGET DEBATE: The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the tenure provisions in the state budget. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said for the first time in her 30-year career, she fears for the future of public education. “I am truly worried about the ongoing starvation of our public schools,” she said. “I see other states making a commitment to public education. In our state I see in this budget we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting teacher assistants, we’re cutting instructional support.”
With education as the focus, the House and Senate will take budget votes Tuesday and Wednesday as they race toward the end of session.
***More on the state budget and other North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***
TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The budget will steal the headlines but lawmakers will try to make headway on plenty of other fronts as well. The House starts at noon and the Senate starts at 4 p.m. Two main House committees will meet with observers looking for last-minute surprises. Also in the House: State Treasurer Janet Cowell's effort to get more flexibility for the pension investment portfolio (S558) is scheduled for a vote. The bill divided the House Finance Committee and barely survived with the state employees union mounting considerable opposition.
The Senate Rules Committee will consider its new voter ID measure and other election changes when it meets at 2 p.m. The Senate calendard includes a Wake County schools bill and a Durham development measure, as well as a vote on SB76, the compromise energy bill approved by the House a day earlier.
Progress NC and Democracy NC will hold an event at 10:30 a.m. to highlight opposition to the election law changes, comparing North Carolina’s move to Florida by planting pink flamingos in front of the statehouse. At 1 p.m. the ACLU of North Carolina will deliver a petition with 7,000 signatures to Gov. Pat McCrory asking him to stop the abortion bill.
At the same time, McCrory is schedule to sign a major tax cut measure into law in a signing ceremony at the mansion. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger are expected to join him.
TEACHERS DECRY STATE BUDGET: Teachers on Monday said cuts in the state budget released Sunday amount to the legislators forsaking public education. Teacher pay will remain near the bottom of national rankings. More than 3,850 teacher assistant positions will be gone. The extra pay for teachers who earn master’s degrees will be phased out, though teachers who already make the extra money will be able to keep it. The budget also phases out tenure so that teachers who don’t already have it won’t be able to earn it, and it will be gone for all teachers in 2018.
The state does more than pay for schools, of course. In the $20.6 billion budget, Republican legislators fund their priorities. There’s $25 million to upgrade the state Highway Patrol communications system and $2.5 million to hire state troopers. Prisoner Legal Services is getting about one-third of its budget cut. The budget gives nearly $1 million to maternity homes, and changes the state’s economic development structure.
OTHER ITEMS IN THE BUDGET:The State Bureau of Investigation is staying in the Department of Justice and under Attorney General Roy Cooper, with the budget rejecting a Senate proposal to move it. The state crime lab, though, will no longer be part of the SBI. More than a half dozen prisons and juvenile detention centers will close. Read more here.
WHAT'S IN BUDGET: See a breakdown here.
MORAL MONDAY PROTESTERS FIND NO LAWMAKERS: This week, though, the "Moral Monday" routine was a bit off kilter. The legislators were not meeting in the usual Monday night session, so demonstrators who planned to engage in civil disobedience to draw attention to their concerns arrived this week with toothbrushes and a few sleeping bags. Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, pulled a new toothbrush from his pants pocket as evidence of his commitment to stay overnight in protest of the cuts to public education. But General Assembly police closed the building at about 7:15 p.m. and arrested Ellis and more than 70 others who refused to leave. Read more here. And See a photo gallery.
GOP SHIFTS ENERGY FOCUS TO OFFSHORE DRILLING: The state House approved an energy policy Monday that looks beyond fracking in the short term and turns its focus to offshore energy exploration, which could take decades.
The legislation’s focus on offshore oil drilling, and its effect on tourism-dependent areas, is a shift that could transform North Carolina’s coastal region with the promise of jobs and the threat of an accident, as well as the certainty of heated disagreement. Drilling in the Atlantic Ocean remains under prohibition but is slowly being revisited as the nation looks for future sources of energy.
Gov. Pat McCrory signaled his support for such a policy during his election campaign last year. This weekend he emphasized his commitment at an energy summit at Appalachian State University.
“North Carolina needs to get into the energy production business in a much bigger way than we ever have before,” McCrory said, citing a study that offshore energy could create thousands of jobs. “The vast majority of those jobs would be in support services such as banking, health care and all types of logistics.”
In a separate vote, the House also rejected House Bill 74, an environmental package that would have restricted the public’s ability to review the chemicals that energy companies use in fracking. The omnibus legislation, containing dozens of provisions, will now be negotiated by House and Senate members. Any compromise will have to pass both chambers to become law. Read more here.
BUDGET GIVES LOCALS FERRY TOLL VETO: Unable to settle a two-year argument over competing proposals to make travelers start paying for trips on ferry routes that have always been toll-free, state legislators have decided to let somebody else decide.
The new state budget rolled out by House and Senate leaders this week would give unusual veto power to local elected leaders on rural transportation planning boards in coastal areas served by North Carolina’s four toll-free ferries. It gives new clout to mayors and county commissioners who loudly condemned the ferry tolls when they were proposed in 2011 and 2012. Read more here.
BERGER, SENATE BACK DOWN ON DIX LEASE: The fate of Raleigh’s lease on the Dorothea Dix property now rests in negotiations between the city and Gov. Pat McCrory, state officials said Monday.
Sen. Louis Pate, a Mount Olive Republican, introduced a bill earlier this year to scrap the lease for Raleigh’s 325-acre park, saying the agreement signed by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue was a bad deal. Signed last December, the lease calls for Raleigh to pay $500,000 a year, plus 1.5 percent annual increases, in a deal worth $68 million over 75 years.
Now Pate says the legislature will let McCrory oversee a new arrangement that addresses Republican concerns. “We’ll just entrust these deliberations to the parties that are in (the lease),” he said. Read more here.
REDISTRICTING CASE APPEALED: The battle over the political boundaries drawn by Republicans in 2011 continues. Read more here.
McCRORY INJECTS HIMSELF IN CHARLOTTE'S AIRPORT FIGHT: Gov. Pat McCrory is now actively involved in the negotiations over who will control Charlotte Douglas International Airport as the battle between the city of Charlotte and state legislators over its future moves to the courtroom.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, called a meeting between the two sides in Raleigh on Monday, said Richard Vinroot, another former Charlotte mayor who is backing the state’s effort to create an airport authority. They agreed not to discuss publicly what took place at the meeting, Vinroot said. Read more here.