LAWMAKERS THROW McCRORY A BONE: The first bill to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk is likely to be a measure to cut unemployment benefits for the jobless. The Republican supports the bill but don't be surprised if it's not the first one he signs. The House worked late Wednesday to pass another bill designed to create two paths for high school graduates: technical schools or college. McCrory campaigned on this issue and Democrats expect to him to make it the first bill he signs. "The word on the street is that the governor wants to have a press conference on this," Democratic state Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham said on the House floor in criticizing the speed at which it progressed. The bill was heard in committee and given initial approval in the House in the same day.
TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: State Auditor Beth Wood appears before lawmakers this morning to talk about a recent audit showing troubles in the Medicaid system -- a documents Republicans are using as justification to block a Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law. A Senate committee will consider a measure to block public access to records about concealed weapons holders. On the House floor, House Speaker Thom Tillis is limiting debate on a controversial measure to block Medicaid expansion to 30 minutes. Lawmakers want to leave early today, in part, because it's Valentine's Day. McCrory is hosting more lawmakers for breakfast and lists no other public events.
Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for all the North Carolina political scuttlebutt. Much more below.
SPOTTED: McCrory sat courtside on the home team's baseline for the North Carolina-Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium with Jack Hawke, his political strategist. We know who Hawke was probably cheering for -- he's a Duke University law school grad. As for McCrory, that's a different question. He went to Catawba College so he seems to be on neutral ground. But he did take a shot at UNC's basketball team in a recent radio interview.
Earlier in the day First Lady Ann McCrory made a rare public appearance with her husband at a Durham Rescue Mission event.
GOP SAYS FACT-CHECKING STORY ABOUT BERGER "MALICIOUS": Senate Republicans responded to a News & Observer story citing experts dispelling myths in Senate leader Phil Berger's rhetoric on the federal health care law by call it "malicious." From a fundraising letter the GOP caucus, signed by Sen. Bob Rucho: "They've (ironically) accused the leader of the state Senate of outright lying to the people of North Carolina. This went beyond unbalanced coverage. It's malicious. If you know Senator Berger like I do, you know he's a man of his word. He doesn't lie to get ahead." The tactic is designed to raise money -- just as Berger's original petition was designed to stir up tea party members of his party.
OBAMA IN NORTH CAROLINA: President Barack Obama used a bustling engine-parts factory in North Carolina that came back from the dead as the backdrop Wednesday to pitch his plans to boost U.S. manufacturing, part of the second-term agenda he rolled out in his State of the Union address the night before. “There are things we can do right now to accelerate the resurgence of American manufacturing,” Obama told a crowd on the factory floor at Linamar Corp. He called on Congress to approve $1 billion to create a network of 15 manufacturing “innovation institutes” in hard-hit areas, lower the tax rate for manufacturers to 25 percent from 35 percent and provide help for communities hurt by plant closings.
REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: He faced immediate blowback from Republicans ranging from House Speaker John Boehner to U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, whose district includes Asheville. “Once again, President Obama is flying down to North Carolina to push his economic agenda,” McHenry said. “The last time, he visited Freightliner in Mount Holly. Six months later, they announced over 1,000 layoffs. No matter how many times he says otherwise, President Obama’s policies are hurting small and large businesses in North Carolina.”
A VALENTINE'S DAY RED ALERT: Larry Sabato at University of Virginia ranks the 2014 U.S. Senate races and leaves Sen. Kay Hagan off the most vulnerable list, a place other prognosticators are putting the North Carolina Democrat. But he does rank the race as "toss up." The writeup: Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and likely Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) will be fighting Republicans in more favorable territory, but neither can be called favorites as the GOP figures out its primary fields."
WHO WILL CHALLENGE HAGAN? National Journal made a round of calls following PPP's latest polling on the race. And lo and behold, state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, the highest polling Republican, is considering a run. From the story: "I've been encouraged by quite a few people to look at this opportunity. I owe it to them and myself to at least consider my options. This means talking to my family and key supporters. And then make a decision at some point in the future," Berry said, in a statement to Hotline On Call." Berry is best known for her photo in the elevator, not her politics.
TWEET OF THE DAY: From Republican National Committee political director @Rick_Wiley North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is 2014's Bev Perdue.
PERSONNEL FILE: McCrory's nephew Patrick Sebastian joined Mercury Public Affairs, a new N.C. political firm in Raleigh run by the governor's former campaign manager, Russell Peck. Sebastian ran Republican Tony Gurley's unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2012.
SEN. BURR IS MR. FUNNY MAN: First a waterboarding joke for John Brennan and now a joke about his long-ago ancestor Aaron Burr for Jack Lew, the president's nominee for treasury secretary. Looks like Sen. Richard Burr is auditioning for class comedian. Or he thinks, as we often do, that tedious congressional hearings need some good humor. (H/T Jonathan Kappler)
TOP POLITICAL HEADLINES
GOP TO KEEP FRACKING TAXES LOW TO SPUR INTEREST: North Carolina has several disadvantages in fracking development, so Republicans are trying to increase the incentive to drill here. Among North Carolina’s drawbacks are the uncertainty of the quantity of natural gas here and the state’s lack of experience in energy exploration. Additionally, the depressed global price of natural gas has resulted in a dramatic falloff of drilling activity nationwide, from a high of 1,606 wells in September 2008 to 428 wells on Feb. 1, according to a legislative staff memo prepared for Wednesday’s hearing. Newton’s bill seeks to compensate for those shortcomings by taxing shale gas developers at a lower rate than other states. The bill suggests a severance tax on a sliding scale that is indexed to the fluctuating market price of natural gas at the wellhead. The severance tax would pay for regulatory staff and enforcement activities.
WITHOUT INSURANCE, FEW OPTIONS: The thousands of low-income North Carolinians denied health insurance in a Republican-drafted measure that passed the House on Wednesday are left with few options for coverage.
PANTHERS AMP LOBBYING EFFORT: Two Republican lawmakers say any effort to raise Charlotte’s prepared food tax to help upgrade Bank of America Stadium would require a vote by the public.
“There will be a referendum,” Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews said Wednesday. “It’s a deal-killer.” Brawley’s comments, which echoed earlier remarks by House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius, came on a day when Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson formally asked Mecklenburg County lawmakers for state help.