Under the Dome

Morning Memo: McCrory promises big changes; Democrats hit Ellmers

UPDATED: GOV. MCCRORY PROMISES BIG CHANGES COMING: Days after releasing a modest state budget and weeks after a tepid State of the State address, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is promsing big things. "Now we're moving into policy," he told a Chamber crowd Wednesday. The News-Record hits the highlights of what we should expect: "McCrory said the state Department of Transportation will be “revamping” how it finances and distributes money. ... McCrory said he’ll have “major announcements on Medicaid reform” next week, and that his administration is “completely revamping” the state’s commerce department. ... He said his tax plan should be ready within weeks and reaffirmed a desire to cut income and corporate tax rates to the lower levels of neighboring states. ... He said major announcements are coming on the state’s job recruitment efforts at the N.C. Department of Commerce, which new director Sharon Decker said last week may privatize many of its functions."

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. to hear a Mecklenburg property tax measure. The House meets at noon to hear a bill to repeal taxpayer funded judicial elections and another bill that favors Blue Cross Blue Shield. At the Capitol, McCrory and Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan will announce at 10 a.m. the new Highway Patrol commander, Alcohol Law Enforcement director and State Capitol Police chief at a swearing-in ceremony.

Also on the political calendar: Mayors Against Illegal Guns is promoting a day of action to push its background-check legislation; a group of area university and college professors host a 5 p.m. forum at Duke University titled, "Save Our State: Scholars Speak Out on North Carolina's New Direction"; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appears at Guilford College for a 7:30 p.m. event with former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, hosted by PBS's Gwen Ifill. This is likely Bush's his first visit to the state since the release of his book and open talk about running for president in 2016.

***Good morning! Happy "Friday" to state employees with tomorrow's holiday. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for North Carolina political news. Send tips and news to More headlines below.***

HAGAN REVERSES STANCE ON GAY MARRIAGE:Ever since writing the Morning Memo on Tuesday highlighting U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's opposition to gay marriage, Democrats were grumbling about her stance. Even facing re-election in 2014, many privately felt she was playing it too safe and may alienate her own party supporters. But yesterday Hagan changed her mind, saying it was an evolution in recent years. “I’m not interested in playing political pundit,” Hagan said when asked how she thought her stance would affect her re-election prospects. “I’ve never made a decision based on future elections. I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in casting aspersions on those who view this differently.” Full story here.

NON-NEWS ALERT: ELLMERS LOOKING AT 2014 SENATE RUN: Congresswoman Renee Ellmers told WRAL what everyone already knew: she's looking at an upgrade. The Raleigh TV station didn't even have to press the point asking blandly about her future political aspirations to ellicit this Ellmers answer: "I love what I’m doing right now. I really feel like I have made such strides in the very short period of time I’ve been there, especially without having a political background. But I will tell you, as you know, there is a Senate race in North Carolina that’s going to take place in 2014, and I am certainly open to that thought. I’m praying on it. That’s ultimately where I make those types of decisions. They come to me. I don’t make them myself, and it’s a very important one."

EXCLUSIVE: DEMOCRATS FIRE AWAY: Democrats are giving the candidate treatment to any Republican thinking about running for Hagan's seat. The N.C. Democratic Party is criticizing Ellmers for what sees as extreme views. In a release set for distribution later today, the party says Ellmers has "shown her hand on the extremist policies she’s peddled since taking office just a few years ago, including three votes in three years on the Ryan budget that would end Medicare as we know it and co-sponsorship of a personhood bill so extreme that in-vitro fertilization could be treated as murder." But even the Democrats seem to wonder if Ellmers is serious about a run or, as they write in the release, she's "out for some attention from the political kingmakers."

MORE FROM ELLMERS: To get an idea of Ellmers as a candidate -- and how she would play statewide in 2014 -- take a look at the interview transcript. In one question, her answer to a tearful Fort Bragg family worried about sequestration, is essentially: we haven't seen the cuts yet. Interview here.

CHAMBER TO HELP STATE LEADERS WITH JOB PLAN: At the Greensboro event, the N.C. Chamber announced plans to raise $15 million in five years to create a plan called the Vision 2030 Initiative to address four areas according to WRAL TechWire: education and talent supply, business climate; entrepreneurship and innovation; and infrastructure and growth leadership. "Chamber CEO Lew Ebert told WRAL News that no hires have been made yet, but the statewide business group will be hiring a "policy team." "The governor wants to hear about it, the General Assembly wants to hear about it," Ebert said. "They want us to give them solutions for job creation." More here.

REPUBLICANS CRAFT END-AROUND DPI: Frustrated by current restrictions, Republican lawmakers are crafting an entirely new system to manage charter schools, establishing a separate governing board filled with advocates and eliminating requirements for licensed teachers. The measure takes authority from the State Board of Education to approve future charters and monitor existing ones – a move that critics say would spawn a shadow public school system. Republican state Sen. Jerry Tillman, the sponsor and committee co-chairman, gave a gruff assessment of the state board’s view on charters since lawmakers eliminated a cap on the number of schools in 2011. He said charter schools are too restrained to be successful. “There has been friction, and there has been a feeling that ‘we’re accepting you begrudgingly at best,’ ” said Tillman, a retired public school administrator who lives in Archdale. “It has not worked how I would like it to work, and we need a new cast of players.” Full story here.

HOSPITAL TRANSPARENCY AT ISSUE: Taking aim at a hospital billing system that is shrouded in mystery, two N.C. senators introduced legislation Wednesday that they say would make it far easier for patients to shop for the best prices on medical procedures. Hospitals would be required to publicly disclose their prices on their most common medical procedures under the bill, sponsored by Republican senators Bob Rucho of Matthews and Harry Brown of Jacksonville.

The legislation would also set up financial rewards for hospitals that provide low-cost care – and would ban a type of double-billing now common in radiology. The legislation was prompted by a series of stories last year in The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, “Prognosis: Profits,” which found that nonprofit hospitals in North Carolina are inflating prices on drugs and procedures, sometimes as much as 10 times over cost. Full story.

HISTORIC SITES GETS MONEY FOR UPGRADES, NOW ON CHOPPING BLOCK: Poor under-appreciated James K. Polk. Yet he’s been referred to as the “least-known president of consequence.” Months after state legislators released $130,000 to renovate the Polk site’s visitors center, Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget recommends mothballing the facility and three other state historic sites. Full story.

OFFICIALS HOPES VOTE SENDS SIGNAL TO PANTHERS: After watching the N.C. House pass a bill that would help the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte officials said Wednesday they’re confident the measure will persuade the team to stay in Charlotte. By a voice vote, the House passed a bill that would allow the city to use taxes, now earmarked for the Charlotte Convention Center, toward renovating Bank of America Stadium. The bill now goes to the Senate. Full story.

FEDERAL KILAH LAW PROPOSED: U.S. Sen. Robert Pittenger is expected to announce federal legislation Thursday to increase penalties for people convicted of child abuse. The proposal – which will be called the “Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013” – is named for a Union County toddler who police say was severely beaten by her step-father last summer. Kilah was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull, and doctors have said she’ll likely have the mind of a 3-year-old for the rest of her life. Full story.


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Extreme positions?

What does the NC Democratic Party say about paying your income taxes on time? Isn't that extreme?

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