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Morning Memo: Rural Center questions continue, First Lady steps out

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: In committees, a number of contentious measures are being considered for discussion only. The House Finance Committee will review a taxpayer bill of rights, known as TABOR, that would constitutionally limit state spending. The Senate Education Committee will look at a House-approved bill to give students with disabilities vouchers to attend private schools. Senate lawmakers will also hear a bill in the Finance Committee that critics argue would allow mega-dumps and attract out-of-state trash. Also, the House Commerce Committee will roll out a major bill on Gov. Pat McCrory's agenda to reorganize the state commerce department.

In a rare appearance, First Lady Ann McCrory will step into the spotlight and hold her first news conference to ask the Senate to pass a watered down measure to regulate so-called puppy mills. The House approved the bill but the Senate has sat on it for a month without action. Her event is at 3:30 p.m. at the mansion. Gov. McCrory will have breakfast with lawmakers and then host his education cabinet at 1 p.m.

RURAL CENTER UNDER FIRE: Several board members of the taxpayer-funded N.C. Rural Economic Development Center said this week they are concerned about practices brought to light in a recent News & Observer series and welcome additional oversight.Rural Center leaders, however, said the newspaper reports do not properly reflect the organization’s work.

***More on the Rural Center controversy -- and the N.C. Democratic Party troubles, as well as a headline only Asheville could do best -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Gov. Pat McCrory said the reporting shows why he wants a new approach on economic development and taxpayer aid for job creation across the state. The governor stepped up lobbying on legislation that would revamp how the administration spends money recruiting jobs, including with grant funding like that now handled by the Rural Center, in advance of a House hearing Wednesday. “These revelations continue to confirm what our administration has learned during just the first five months in office: The statewide economic development system is broken,” McCrory said in a statement.

BOARD MEMBER WANTS BILLY RAY HALL PUT ON LEAVE: Bob Luddy, appointed by Senate leader Phil Berger, said the findings in the newspaper series raise enough questions that it should prompt immediate reviews. In a letter to fellow board members, Luddy said the board should place center president Billy Ray Hall on a 90-day unpaid leave of absence while auditors review policies and procedures. More here.

SHOULD TILLIS RESIGN? VOTERS SPLIT: The latest PPP poll shows that 37 percent of voters think House Speaker Thom Tillis should resign his post as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate, compared to 23 percent who disagree. But 40 percent are undecided. The Democratic polling firm notes that there's a bipartisan agreement among those who think he should step aside. Even Republicans lean that direction, 35 percent believe he should step down to 30 percent who think he should stay. More on poll here.

PARIS IN SPRINGTIME: North Carolina sent a substantial delegation to Paris this week for the air show. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is leading the trip -- McCrory decided not to go, neither did Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker. Other state officials on the trip: Sarah Bernart, Todd Brennan, Josh Ellis, Rod Forsythe, Dallas Hardenbrook and Rick Hill. State taxpayers are paying for the commerce officials trip expenses, Ellis said in an email from Paris. The exact cost is unknown at this time.

DNC CLAIMS $500,000 IN EQUIPMENT IS MISSING OR STOLEN: The Democratic National Committee said it recently sent the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department a spreadsheet detailing $496,000 worth of missing equipment. CMPD created an incident report in May. Among the missing items: MacBook Pro laptops, iPads, iPod Nanos, computer printers, and BlackBerrys. “It’s commonplace for stuff to go missing,” said Joseph Sandler, a Washington, D.C., attorney handling media calls about the issue for the DNC. “This is very typical, even though we have an inventory system.”

Sandler said some of the items may have been inadvertently kept by DNC staffers who had used the equipment for months before the convention. But he said he believes some of the equipment was stolen by people not involved with the convention. “Some of it may have been stolen, but we don’t know exactly what happened,” he said. Full story.

VOLLER TRIES TO SHAKE CONTROVERSIES: State Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said Tuesday he hopes the party infighting is behind him, after he signed an unusual settlement agreement with several of his critics. “It’s time (for Democrats) to unify,” Voller said in a meeting with News & Observer editorial writers and reporters. “It’s time to get behind Kay Hagan on down. And it’s time to stop squabbling and to start working.”

Voller attributed much of the discord to factionalism that would exist in the party even if he had not become chairman. “That civil war was already undergoing whether I was here or not,” Voller said in response to a question of why he didn’t just get out of the way if the Democrats were engaged in a civil war. “There are different factions that are not going to accept somebody as chair for whatever reason – because they have their own view of what a chair should do, or it wasn’t their person.”

“People have to put this stuff aside and go forward,” Voller said. ... “Do I wish that I could change some things?” Voller said. “Yes I do. Do I acknowledge mistakes. Yes I do. But my mission is to pick up the fumble and move forward, knowing there are lots of people behind what we are doing that want to see us successful.” Full story.

HOW FAST WILL THEY GO?: A favorable House committee vote Tuesday moved North Carolina a step closer to setting highway speed limits as high as 75 mph, but some legislators worried that drivers really would get away with driving as fast as 85 mph. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, called it an “unwritten rule.”

“Everybody knows the reality is that on a 70, you go 80,” Dollar said at a House Transportation Committee meeting. “You can pretty well set your cruise control at 78 or so, and you’re not going to get a ticket. You’re bumping this up another five miles. You’re bumping it up to everybody saying OK, if it’s 75, we can go right at 84, 85 and be pretty well comfortable,” Dollar said. Full story.

AUTO INSURANCE FIGHT RE-EMERGES: Apparently coincidental to the idea that higher speed limits may cause more wrecks, comes news from the auto insurance industry. From today's story: The internal feud among North Carolina’s insurance carriers over the way the state regulates auto insurance rates continues to bubble up in the halls and back rooms of the state legislature. FAIR NC, a coalition of insurance companies that this spring failed to win passage of a bill that would have remade the state’s regulatory system, hasn’t given up the fight. Now the coalition, which includes such companies as State Farm, Allstate and Geico, is seeking to amend a heretofore noncontroversial auto insurance bill that was unanimously approved by the Senate in April. Full story.

TAX PLAN HIT TO CHARLOTTE -- $31 million a year: Charlotte is lobbying against the state Senate’s tax reform bill, saying it would cost the city at least $31 million a year in lost revenue and possibly require a property tax increase. Cities and towns could lose nearly $150 million in revenues when the tax bill is fully implemented in fiscal 2019 because it eliminates the local food tax and local privilege license tax and requires local governments to pay sales taxes, according to an analysis by the N.C. League of Municipalities. “This is money our city manager would have to come up with to keep things running,” Dana Fenton, Charlotte’s intergovernmental relations manager, told the Observer. “We don’t know what we would have to do to address that issue in 2019. It could be property taxes or cuts to services.” Full story.

ENERGY STANDARDS REPEAL ADVANCES: A legislative effort to slash the state’s energy-efficiency requirements for new buildings gained crucial support in a Senate committee Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill that would roll back energy-efficiency requirements of new office buildings and commercial facilities by an estimated 30 percent. The bill, which is designed to help the construction industry, has divided contractors and builders as it would reduce the market for high-efficiency materials and services that benefit from current standards. Full story.

DUKE ENERGY GOES WITH INSIDE PICK: Less than a year after a tumultuous merger made it the nation’s largest electric utility, Duke Energy on Tuesday announced an insider as its first female chief executive. Chief financial officer Lynn Good will succeed outgoing president and CEO Jim Rogers on July 1. Rogers, CEO since 2006, will continue as chairman until he retires Dec. 31. The selection puts day-to-day control of Duke in the hands of an executive better known to Wall Street analysts than to much of Charlotte’s business community. Full story.

CHARLOTTE POLICE CHIEF JOINS NATIONAL GUN DEBATE: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe called for a national assault weapons ban on Tuesday, joining a growing number of police chiefs across the country who have said the assault-style weapons should be outlawed. Monroe said he feels strongest about restrictions on guns with high-capacity magazines, like the one used in the Newtown, Conn., shootings that left 20 children dead. Full story.

GE AVIATION JOBS ANNOUNCEMENT LEADS TO HIGH HOPES: The Wilmington Star-News, in a front page article Wednesday, gave the recent GE Aviation jobs announcement a good spin: On the surface, 35 new jobs doesn't sound like a lot – especially when it's costing New Hanover County taxpayers $875,000 in incentives. But officials said the announcement by GE Aviation that it plans to invest $195 million to expand four facilities in North Carolina – including in Castle Hayne – is more than just about jobs and dollars. It's an investment that could help secure the future of the state as an aerospace manufacturing hub. Story here.

RALEIGH SEES ORGY OF MEANNESS -- that's the lead headline at the Asheville Citizen-Times website this morning, accompanying a picture from the Moral Mondays protests. It links to an op-ed written by Martin Dyckman, a former Florida resident and St. Petersburg Times journalist who now lives in Waynesville. "I covered politics throughout a long career in journalism without ever seeing a legislative session as overwhelmingly radical as that of the current General Assembly," he writes. "The pretext for all that is to make North Carolina more attractive for investment. That is, to put it politely, enough fertilizer to enrich the soil of a thousand farms. Business goes where it can find a skilled workforce and good transportation; tax rates are far down the list. The real object, one suspects, is simply to make North Carolina a trophy for wealthy freeloaders and right-wing ideologues, to serve as an example to be applied wherever else the Democratic Party is disorganized or complacent. Raising money to run for the U.S. Senate has something to do with it, too." Read more here.


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Paris in springtime

I got a feelin' deep down in my bones that the Global Transpark will once again be flyin' to Paris for the air show. How many times have the GTP folk been over to Paris and enjoyed the show?

On a side note the Daily Reflector ran an editorial about leaving economic development the way it has been rather than changing it. They ran a photo of the Global Transpark as proof that the old way works. How could anyone use the Global Transpark as an example of success????????????????

I remember an economist visiting the Kinston Rotary Club telling us all the benefits of the upcoming Global Transpark. He stated that strawberries would be picked in Lenoir County today and the French would be eating them on their cereal the next morning. Of course then someone spoiled the scenario when it was discovered that the entire crop of strawberries could be flown to Paris in just a few trips. It was also then discovered that Parisians were already eating strawberries. They were evidently getting these strawberries from somewhere else. It was a mystery indeed.

Well, have a nice flight and enjoy Paris. Us taxpayers will trudge along keeping the payments up. And we will be enjoying the strawberries that are in season.

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