Under the Dome

Morning Memo: McCrory, Foxx square off as legislature takes fast track

IS IT MAYOR PAT OR GOVERNOR PAT? Gov. Pat McCrory told two city of Charlotte staff members this week that state money for the light-rail extension to UNC Charlotte could be at risk if the city builds a controversial streetcar, according to a memo sent Thursday. Without the N.C. Department of Transportation’s $250 million grant, the $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line extension can’t be built. As Charlotte mayor, McCrory, a Republican, championed light rail, which was one of his signature accomplishments. But he vehemently disagrees with using city property tax dollars to build a streetcar, and used the meeting in Raleigh to relay a message to City Council, according to the memo.

FOXX 'OUTRAGED' OVER WHAT HE CALLS A THREAT: “It’s particularly alarming that he would choose to deliver messages to city staff, particularly messages that contain threats," said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat and potential challenger to McCrory in 2016. “He is governor of the state, and there are a host of issues – tax reform, health care. Why the governor would choose to place focus on a transit project, particularly one contained in a transit plan that he voted to implement makes no sense,” Foxx said.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo a tipsheet on N.C. politics. Click "Read More" for other headlines and news.***

MORE FROM STORY: "The governor’s input in the city’s streetcar could be at odds with his recent position on whether the state should approve a proposed increase in the city’s prepared food and beverage tax. …When asked about whether the legislature should approve a local tax hike for the Panthers, a McCrory press secretary said the governor “believes that local leaders should make decisions on local issues – the same philosophy he employed as mayor of Charlotte.”

BIG HEADLINE -- STATE OVERPSENT MEDICAID BUDGET BY $1.4B: A state audit of the $13 billion Medicaid budget revealed a rat’s nest of problems from overspending, bloated administrative costs and violations of the law. Gov. Pat McCrory used the audit to hit on his “broken government” theme and the need for repairs. “As we know, across the state, people are hurting,” McCrory said. “We want to make sure that the money that’s supposed to help people is going to them, not to the administrative cost.”

PAGING GOV. PERDUE More from the story -- "In the last three years, the state has overspent its Medicaid budget by more than $1.4 billion, state Auditor Beth Wood said during a press conference Thursday morning on the Dorothea Dix campus to announce the findings. … In one example of bad budgeting, the state Medicaid office withheld $131 million that was owed to the federal government, though the legislature disallowed the practice and the Office of State Budget and Management warned the Medicaid office not to hold onto the money. The audit says the Medicaid chief business operations officer told auditors that “legislative leadership” knew the Medicaid office withheld the money, so department officials thought it was OK. The audit did not refer to the business officer, Steve Owen, by name, and did not identify the legislative leaders who knew."

TODAY IN POLITICS: State lawmakers retreated home for the week with plans to return Monday evening to consider two major bills -- an unusual bit of work early in the session on a day lawmakers don't typically do much at all. Today, Gov. Pat McCrory will address the Tobacco Growers Association Annual Meeting in Raleigh and surely face questions about his decision to support an unemployment overhaul. He did not stop to talk to reporters in Rocky Mount after his big announcement Thursday.

REPUBLICANS MOVING FAST AND DEMOCRATS DON'T LIKE IT: That sums up Thursday's legislative action in the House and Senate, where lawmakers swiftly pushed through a bill to cut unemployment benefits for jobless and a measure to block the expansion of Medicaid to the uninsured poor. Democrats complained about the speed of the moves.

Two remaining questions: Where's the evidence that paying off the state's unemployment debt quickly will help the economy more than a $225-million infusion of jobless benefits? And: If GOP lawmakers don't want to expand Medicaid, how do they propose to get the half million people in North Carolina covered?

McCRORY KEEPS PRESSING HIGHER ED PLAN, but with tempered language: The Republican told Rocky Mount business leaders that he wants a combination approach to funding the state’s universities and colleges that considers student enrollment numbers and how many graduates get jobs.
“Instead of just having the legislative (funding) formula for schools be based upon the number of people that go to those schools, it should also include a formula that looks at the results of what the schools are doing,” he told a Rocky Mount Area Chamber event.

Earlier this week, McCrory used bolder language on a national radio talk show, saying that he is drafting legislation to give money to colleges “not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs" and targeted gender studies courses. The sharp language elicited a fierce outcry from students and faculty at UNC and across the country. But McCrory stayed away from such comments Thursday.

GOP LEADERS LUKEWARM, BUT GUN BILLS PERSIST: The governor and House speaker appear cautious about any new gun legislation but state lawmakers keep filing the bills. The newest: Gun-toting teachers and armed school volunteers would be permitted in North Carolina’s public schools under legislation that would expand who could legally have firearms on campus. A bill introduced Thursday in the state Senate would create the position of “school safety marshal,” allowing people who complete a new state-designed training course to carry guns on campus.

CHARLOTTE HOST COMMITTEE STILL OWES $10M FOR DNC:Nearly five months since the last confetti fell at the Democratic National Convention – and two years after Charlotte won the event – the host committee still owes $10 million. Reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission show the committee, charged with raising money for the convention, received just a half-dozen contributions totaling $345,000 over the last three months of the year. The committee drew down the full $10 million line of credit guaranteed by Duke Energy Corp. Duke’s chief executive, Jim Rogers, co-chaired the committee. The line of credit comes due at the end of February. Earlier this month Rogers suggested Duke shareholders might have to eat the $10 million loan.

WARREN BUFFETT NOW OWNS HUGE STAKE IN N.C. NEWSPAPERS: From the News-Record -- Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway bought the News & Record, effective this morning. BH Media bought the newspaper from Landmark Media Enterprises for an undisclosed sum. …Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest commitment to newspapers began last June. That’s when BH Media bought the majority of Media General’s newspapers — including the Winston-Salem Journal — in a $142 million deal. The June purchase included newspapers in Hickory, Statesville, Mooresville, Morganton and Reidsville-Eden.

SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBER DEFAULTS ON LOAN: From the Daily Southerner -- The foreclosure sale by PNC Bank of property belonging to State Sen. Clark Jenkins and his wife, Mary, was postponed from noon Wednesday until noon on April 24. Jenkins, who is serving his sixth term in the senate, represents Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrell and Washington counties. He is a member of six standing or select committees, including Finance and Commerce. Jenkins and his wife defaulted on a loan owned by PNC Bank and owe $488,800.36 — including $35,701.34 in past due payments, $1,235.52 in late fees and $225.50 in other related costs.

HOELL RETIRING: From AP -- State Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell is retiring from his post, capping more than three decades of work on disaster prevention, response and recovery. The Department of Public Safety announced Hoell's retirement Thursday, a day before it takes effect. Hoell's work in emergency management dates back to 1976, when he served with Raleigh/Wake County emergency preparedness. He was appointed as state emergency management director in July 2005. Department of Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan said deputy director Mike Sprayberry will serve as acting director until a permanent replacement is found. Sprayberry was also appointed to his post in 2005.

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