HOUSE SPEAKER'S HOMETOWN PAPER CALLS FOR HIS RESIGNATION: Responding to the second story (here and here) in a month about House Speaker Thom Tillis skipping session to fundraise for his U.S. Senate campaign, The Charlotte Observer editorial board said he needs to resign his post. In an editorial headlined, "Tillis tries but can't serve two masters," they concluded: "It’s fine that Tillis is interested in higher office, and we don’t fault him for recognizing the need to raise millions. But the fiscal year started three weeks ago and the legislature still has not agreed on a budget. Tillis is missing sessions. His actions are raising questions of conflict of interest.
"He has shown he can’t give his undivided attention to the N.C. House and the U.S. Senate at the same time. He should give up his Speaker’s gavel, resign from his House seat and give his full energy to his Senate bid, unencumbered by such distractions as running the state."
Facing this question before, Tillis has said he intends to remain speaker and do his job. But he also said he wouldn't actively campaign during the legislative session, a pledge that is in question. Some Republicans are starting to privately grumble that he may need to step down. Read the editorial here.
PAT McCRORY ON HIS FALLING APPROVAL RATINGS: Meh. WCNC-TV's Dave Wagner interviewed Gov. Pat McCrory and asked about the latest PPP numbers showing McCrory in the negative for the first time in his term. Accccording to a @WagnerWCNC tweet, McCrory replied: "I'm shocked they're not lower, cause we're stepping on the toes of the status quo."
***Welcome to the Dome Morning Memo -- more North Carolina political news and analysis below.****
TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: One more week until the end of session -- or so they say. House and Senate budget negotiators are finalizing a deal on the $20 billion spending plan that is a month behind schedule while other closed-door talks about contentious bills continue. The House is taking the day off but the Senate is holding a morning session. A bill to transfer control of Wake County's school buildings to the county commission is on the calendar, as well as bills pertaining to coastal terminal groins and animal shelters. (More on those bills below.) And don't forget the one to prohibit Sharia Law from being used in N.C. courts.
Gov. Pat McCrory is attending the Appalachian Energy Summit in Boone and will take a tour of the town's main street later in the day, starting at the new Mellow Mushroom on King Street (which, by the way, has a great craft beer selection). Wonder if McCrory will visit Mast General Store's candy barrels, where President Barack Obama stopped during his 2012 campaign.
THOM TILLIS NAMED TOP 50 POLITICO TO WATCH: In Washington, Thom Tillis is getting lots of attention, landing on Politico's recent list of top 50 politicians to watch. Politico writes:
"There’s already some buzz in Washington circles that Tillis could be a future chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But first, he needs to clear a primary and knock off an incumbent in a purple state. ... “I believe we can win it” but that it “will be a very difficult race,” said Tillis, who describes himself as “very much pro-business.” Read more on Tillis and see the full Politico list.
RURAL CENTER EMPIRE CRUMBLING: The governor’s office froze state money at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center on Thursday as the agency’s longtime president, Billy Ray Hall, resigned in an effort to save the agency he led for 25 years. The center’s board chairwoman, Valeria Lee, refused calls to also step down as she pledged to honor a controversial severance payment to Hall of at least $241,000. She said the payment was intended to show appreciation for what Hall has done to help rural communities. The swift developments followed mounting questions about the nonprofit organization’s handling and oversight of millions in state dollars received from the General Assembly. Read more here.
BERGER AIMS AT BILLY RAY HALL: Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, leveled intense criticism Thursday about a severance account for Rural Center president Billy Ray Hall that was disclosed to the public in a footnote within a critical state audit.
Berger said Hall should not receive a “golden parachute” severance in the wake of a News & Observer two-part series last month and then the state audit this week.
“While Mr. Hall’s resignation is a good first step in cleaning up the blatant abuse of taxpayer money by the Rural Center, it is wrong for him to take a ‘golden parachute’ severance package under these circumstances,” Berger said. Rural Center board Chairwoman Valeria Lee said the center will seek to honor the severance. She described the account as one way the center sought to show “appreciation.” Read more here.
McCRORY SIGNS ABORTION-RELATED BILL: Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law a requirement teaching public school children there's a link between abortion and pre-term births later in life. The measure was among 43 bills McCrory signed Thursday. Read more here.
AFTER ALL THAT TAX DEBATE, FEW LOOPHOLES CLOSED: The months-long debate over overhauling the state tax system has produced a mixed bag of loophole closures, creating winners and losers in a bill that Republicans declared would create a level playing field. A basic principle of tax reform is to make the tax code fair for everyone while raising just enough revenue to pay for government services.
Under the legislation sent Thursday to Gov. Pat McCrory, who is expected to sign it, some taxpayers would see relief in the form of lower income tax rates and higher standard deductions. But the bill only cuts 48 of the more than 300 tax breaks on the books, and lawmakers are banking on strong economic growth in subsequent years to make up for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue losses from cutting income taxes. Read more here.
VOTER ID RESURFACES: Resurrecting one of the legislative session’s most contentious issues, Senate Republicans unveiled a new voter ID bill Thursday that would further restrict the forms of photo identification accepted at the polls. The new measure would require voters to show one of seven types of photo identification issued by the government, such as driver’s licenses, passports, non-driver IDs and military or veteran cards.
It eliminates about half the types of photo identification allowed under the House version, including cards from UNC system colleges, state community colleges, local governments, private employers and law enforcement agencies. The bill would take full effect in the 2016 elections. “We want a state-issued ID or a federal-issued ID,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the bill’s chief supporter, expressing concern that college IDs “could be manipulated” and allow out-of-state students to vote in two states.
The major rewrite came two months after the House approved its voter ID bill and a week before the session’s scheduled end. The disagreement is the latest example of the legislature’s majority party ending up divided over how to deliver on a major campaign promise.
HOUSE HAS CONCERNS: State Rep. David Lewis, who sponsored the House bill, said the provision allowing college IDs at the polls is “important and should remain in the ultimate bill.” But even with the key disagreement, Lewis said he remains confident that the two chambers will reach a resolution before they adjourn next week. “It’s all about continuing to improve the confidence in elections,” the Dunn Republican said. “Both chambers are focused on the same end goal, and we’ll get there.” Read more here.
WHAT DID TILLIS TELL THE TRACKER? In the Democratic Party video of Thom Tillis on the streets of Washington, the speaker talks to the guy holding the camera, though the audio isn't included. What did he say? The tracker asked him why he was missing the budget negotiations and Tillis responded that he was "actually actively involved in budget negotiations."
WAKE TARGETED IN AMENDED BILL: New legislation that would make the Wake County Board of Commissioners the only such body in North Carolina to take over school construction from the local school board passed a state Senate committee Thursday.
The Senate Rules Committee converted a bill originally approved by the House dealing with school funding into legislation giving Wake commissioners school construction authority. The vote comes as a different bill affecting nine counties, including Wake, has stalled in the House. “The bill got hung up in the House, so we decided to take the other counties out and make it more simple,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican. Hunt said he’s confident that a Wake-only bill will be passed by the House. Read more here.
CHARLOTTE AIPORT BILL CREATES FIASCO: The turbulent fight over Charlotte’s airport boomeranged between the General Assembly in Raleigh and a courtroom in Charlotte on Thursday, and by the end of the day had claimed the job of long-time Aviation Director Jerry Orr.
The dispute over whether control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport should be shifted from the city to a new authority landed in court after the N.C. Senate gave quick and final approval to a bill creating the new controlling body. Shortly after the vote, a judge granted a restraining order on behalf of the city that halted the changeover and raised the prospect of a lengthy legal battle. In a capstone to the drama, Orr’s tenure with the city ended that evening with a dispute over whether he was fired or resigned.
Thursday’s twists were the latest in a political battle that flared in February when Republican lawmakers caught city officials off guard by introducing legislation to shift the airport to an independent, regional authority. Read more here.
ORR: The airport director is caught in the middle. Read more here.
CAN'T MISS CARTOON: In case you didn't see it, Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers takes aim at Rep. Ruth Samuelson on the airport deal. See it here.
DEMOCRAT'S CAUSE ADVANCES: The state House passed legislation Thursday that would give rescue workers explicit permission to break into cars to remove dogs and other animals from hot cars. The amended animal shelter bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would allow animal control officers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other rescue workers to enter a vehicle “by any reasonable means” when they suspect an animal is at risk because of heat, cold, inadequate ventilation or other circumstances. It is taken from a bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison. Read more here.
TRAYVON MARTIN RALLY ATTRACTS A CROWD: Nearly 200 people attended a west Charlotte rally in honor of Trayvon Martin at Temple Church International as community leaders try to turn anger at the non-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman into an outpouring of activism.Read more here.
MEL WATT CONFIRMATION ADVANCES:The Senate Banking Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte as the next head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The 12-10 vote was split along party lines, with Democrats backing their party’s longtime congressman from North Carolina.
As expected, Watt’s nomination faced considerable criticism from Republicans on the committee, who questioned the placement of a longtime politician at the head of the FHFA. Read more here.
PERSONNEL FILE: Gov. Pat McCrory appointed a board of directors for the governor's Western Residence in Asheville. The names: Louise Parsons (Charlotte), Amy Nichols (Pfafftown), Trish Smothers (Swannanoa), Madelyn Meyer (Brevard), Sharon West (Asheville), Betty Budd (Asheville), Spencher Locher (Charlotte), Shanon Martin (Asheville), April Riddle (Mars Hill), Judy Long (Asheville), Robin Ramsey (Fairview), Victoria Smith (Vilas), Mary Jane Ferguson (Cherokee), Cheryl Every (Columbus) and Beth Pickelsimer (Brevard).