Under the Dome

Morning Memo: McCrory to talk higher ed, lawmakers to approve Medicaid bill

GOV. McCRORY TO TALK HIGHER ED: Weeks after he stuck his foot in his mouth, Gov. Pat McCrory will make a speech about higher education and the role of innovation in the university economic growth. The Republican governor made controversial comments about changing the higher education funding formula to reflect job output from colleges, not how many students enroll, and he also suggested the state shouldn't subsidize liberal arts classes like gender studies. The noon speech is at N.C. State.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: House and Senate leaders appear ready to agree on a bill to block the expansion of Medcaid to 500,000 North Carolinians. The conference report is on the calendar for concurrence and then would go to the governor. But the topless bill is no longer on the calendar. On Monday, Republicans sent it back to committee. Buncombe Rep. Tim Moffitt told AP the delay would give time for consultations with Senate lawmakers. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will hold a call this morning to discuss the ramifications of the federal budget impasse on North Carolina.

***Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo, get more political news and analysis below.***

GOVERNOR GETS WHITE HOUSE FACE TIME, NOT ANSWERS: From AP --North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he asked President Barack Obama and some of his Cabinet questions about issues he's concerned about during a visit to Washington - but didn't always get the full answer he wanted. McCrory said in an interview he asked Obama during a meeting earlier Monday with other governors about prospects for expanding offshore energy exploration in the Atlantic. The governor said he was told the issue was being studied but didn't get an answer about when the study would be complete. McCrory also said he asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about operating waivers for Medicaid to save the state money, but waiver parameters sound narrow.

N.C. PRESS CORPS HAS KLOUT: The statehouse press corp in North Carolina ranks No. 5 in Klout, according to an analysis by a Florida communications firm. No. 1 on the list is Florida, followed by California, New York and Texas, according to Kevin Cate Communications. The states were ranked for their social media presence on Twitter, using the Klout scale. North Carolina finished above much larger states. I think we can all thank @NCCapitol's (very) detailed tweeting of the legislative floor debates for much of the 51,108 used in the analysis.

GOV. PAT GRAND MARSHAL OF ST. PAT'S PARADE: McCrory obviously misses being mayor in Charlotte. So he's returning to serve as grand marshal in his city's March 16 St. Patrick's Day parade. He played the role twice when he was Charlotte mayor. Given his remarks in the State of the State address, he may scold tipsy leprechauns along the route about the dangers of binge drinking.

DEVASTATING COLUMN: Speaking of McCrory, a new cartoon from his hometown paper depicts him as the mud on the shoe of the Republican legislature, a day after an opinion columnist at the paper lamented the old Pat McCrory.

And now N&O columnist Barry Saunders offers his own appraisal: "Several years ago, when I visited South Africa, the newspapers there were running stories of two tourists on safari who were mauled by a lion after they ventured to within striking distance of the cat. The main thing I remember is that the one who survived said the lion looked so gentle. Want to bet that many people who voted for Gov. Pat McCrory – or, worse, didn’t vote at all – have that same sentiment? Just like those two tourists, many Tar Heels – especially the ones who are seeing their unemployment checks sliced or who won’t be able to afford medical treatment – are likely now feeling mauled.

N.C. CHAMBER BUYS ADS TO THANK McCRORY: One ally in the governor's corner is apparently the N.C. Chamber. The group purchased web advertising that appeared on the N&O website saying, "Thank you Governor McCrory for your courage in supporting real solutions for the real economy." The ad is a reference to the unemployment debt bill that slashed benefits to pay back the debt sooner, a move that will save businesses money. The chamber also purchased print ads reecently to thank lawmakers and the governor for the same. (Here's an example of one thanking senators.)

PITTENGER ON SEQUESTRATION: 'A necessary evil": If across-the-board federal spending cuts go into effect as expected on Friday, the White House estimates that hundreds of North Carolina teachers would lose their jobs, many families across the state would no longer get help with preschool or day care for their children, and 22,000 civilians who work for the military in the state would face pay cuts.

Those are just some of the consequences of the mandatory budget cuts, known as sequestration, which the White House is warning about this week. Others would include trims to budgets for public health, environmental protection and air safety. U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, said the automatic cuts were “a necessary evil.” “I’d rather drill the cavity to save the tooth,” Pittenger said.

REDISTRICTING ARGUMENTS AIRED: With colorful maps and charts as their backdrops, lawyers began making arguments Monday about a legal challenge of North Carolina legislative and congressional districts drawn two years ago by the Republican-led General Assembly. Attorneys for Democratic voters and a coalition of civil rights and election organizations were the first to rise before a three-judge panel. They contend the new maps are unconstitutional. The ultimate shape of the maps could determine which party holds power in North Carolina for the next decade.

McCRORY SAYS LET THERE BE LIGHT: And there was light: DOT engineers say things have improved in Charlotte. Lights at the interchange McCrory mentioned in his State of the State speech – I-85 at I-77 – have been switched on again. “There were some lights in the vicinity that were out temporarily, and that was due to a burned-out circuit,” said Louis Mitchell, DOT division engineer for the Charlotte area. “There were issues in years past when he was mayor. We had sections of freeway lighting that were out. But that’s not the case now.”

EFFORTS MOUNT IN PANTHERS' TALKS: Charlotte business leaders Monday continued to rally around the Carolina Panthers and the team’s request for local and state aid to upgrade Bank of America Stadium. Meanwhile a team official said he’s confident a deal will get done, though one lawmaker said the city’s proposal won’t pass, at least in its current form.

DEMOCRATS SOUND OFF ON WAKE SCHOOL PLAN: Rep. Deborah Ross, another Democrat, also spoke against the proposal. “I cannot see any way that I would be supporting it,” she said. “I’m of the opinion that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

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