Morning Memo: North Carolina not alone in ‘comeback’

Posted by John Frank on February 12, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t alone in declaring a “comeback” for his state’s economy. His counterparts in Illinois, California, Arizona, Ohio and Michigan are all using the same word.

NPR’s All Things Considered noticed the trend: "We've stopped the bleeding. We turned the corner, and Illinois is making a comeback," said Democrat Pat Quinn in his State of the State address last month.

“Michigan Republican Rick Snyder struck a similar chord in his address, declaring, "Michigan is the comeback state."

...Not to be outdone, on the West Coast Democrat Jerry Brown cheered California in his State of the State: "What a comeback it is!"

In the piece, the “Carolina comeback” didn’t get a mention. But it is also disputed. In those other states, the politicians are now trying to figure out what to do with their surpluses.

*** Tuesday proved quite a day in North Carolina politics. Get caught up on all the action below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to attend the International Auto Show preview party at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh at 6:30 p.m, weather permitting. McCrory is making luring an auto maker to the state a key priority for his job recruiting team.

Four legislative committees scheduled to meet Wednesday in Raleigh canceled their meetings because of the weather.

TUESDAY RECAP: The action never ends in North Carolina politics.

The Democratic Party’s conference call with its executive leaders proved contentious and Chairman Randy Voller stepped back from nominating Ben Chavis for executive director. A Republican U.S. Senate candidate is expected to take the stand late this week in a civil trial alleging he misled investors – a charge his attorney rejected in the first day of the trial.

The McCrory administration is once again in the hot seat with lawmakers for pushing for a Medicaid waiver. And a federal judge strikes down another abortion-related law pushed by the state’s Republican legislative leaders.

All this as new polling numbers in the Senate race are expected and a so-called “dark money” political group comes to Kay Hagan’s aid with a new TV ad launching today that attacks Republican front-runner Thom Tillis.

POLITICO LOOKS AT AFP V. HAGAN IN NORTH CAROLINA: From today’s story: The Koch brothers have a seemingly bottomless pot of cash this election year — and no one knows it better than Sen. Kay Hagan.

Americans for Prosperity, a group co-founded by the conservative billionaires, has already dropped $8.2 million on TV, radio and digital ads in an effort to defeat the North Carolina Democrat. According to sources tracking media buys, the group has so far spent more in North Carolina than all Democratic outside groups in every Senate race in the country — combined. ...

“The people of North Carolina need to know what their agenda is,” Hagan said in an interview of David and Charles Koch, the owners of the multinational manufacturing firm Koch Industries. “They want to have tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and, at the same time, put that burden on the middle class and the poor. They want to cut Medicare, Social Security. All of these issues are so, so important to the middle class.” Read more here.

GOP LAWMAKERS SUGGESTION DHHS DIDN’T FOLLOW LAW: Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos received harsh words Tuesday from fellow Republicans angered that the department failed to ask legislative permission before requesting an expensive Medicaid waiver.

The General Assembly had passed a law in July requiring legislative approval before the department asked the federal government for a significant change in Medicaid policy, known as a waiver.

Two weeks later, the department requested a waiver without informing the General Assembly as required by law, the News & Observer first reported Tuesday. DHHS said the cost could be $2.8 million to state taxpayers. ...

AN APOLOGY: While apologizing to the lawmakers, Wos said the decision was the right one in retrospect. She said she was not kept in the loop about the waiver.“I am deeply disappointed that our proper process was not followed,” Wos said. “It was not shared with the CFO for Medicaid, the CFO for DHHS, or the front office. We apologize to the committee for being in this situation.” Read more here.

THREE STRIKES ON ABORTION LAWS: A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that North Carolina’s attempt to offer a “Choose Life” license plate and not provide an abortion-rights alternative was unconstitutional.

The ruling is the third time one of the Republican-led General Assembly’s abortion laws has been struck down over the past three years.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in a 3-0 opinion written by Judge James Wynn of North Carolina.

“Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government ‘restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others,’ ” Wynn wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court decision on campaign financing known as Citizens United. “In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue – reproductive choice – while silencing opposing voices.” Read more here.

POLICY CORNER -- EDUCAITON CENTER OF CONFERENCE DISCUSSIONS: North Carolina, known for its past leadership in education, will have to work hard to regain its edge and build a teaching profession that’s prepared for the challenges of a competitive economic world, experts said Tuesday at a forum that drew 1,300 people to Raleigh.

On its second day, the Emerging Issues Forum explored ideas about how to keep the best teachers, how to give them better professional opportunities and how to ensure quality teaching. ...

Sen Jerry Tillman on teacher pay raises: But, he added, “Everybody will not get the same raises, probably from here on out. There will be a lot in there for excellence and achievement and moving your students ahead.”

The Tennessee model: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, outlined a strategy that seems to have already shown success. Last year, Tennessee had the fastest improving results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a ranking that Haslam called “rare air for us.”

“We decided early on that we were going to make education a priority in Tennessee,” he said. “We knew that while money wasn’t the only answer, it had to be part of the answer.”

Among other states in the past three tough budget years, Tennessee had the fourth-highest increase in education spending as a percentage of its budget. The state also set about raising expectations and standards, Haslam said. It revamped teacher tenure but didn’t eliminate it, and it placed more emphasis on evaluating teacher performance. Read more here.

GOV. McCRORY’S TOUGH CROWD: From columnist Rob Christensen -- The silence was deafening.

Earlier in the morning, Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP legislative leadership had unveiled in Jamestown their pay raise plan for North Carolina public school teachers – raising the starting salary over two years from $30,800 to $35,000 but leaving salaries for most teachers unchanged.

A video clip of McCrory’s announcement was played on a large screen before 1,200 educators and business and civic leaders gathered in a cavernous hall at the Raleigh Convention Center where a two-day conference on teaching was being held.

You could have heard a pin drop. No applause. None. The reception wasn’t much better when McCrory showed up in person later in the day – polite, but cool.

Tough crowd. That’s what happens when North Carolina is now ranked 46th out of 50 states in the country in teacher pay. Read more here.

FROM CAPITOL HILL: Unwilling to spook the markets and divided among themselves, House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government's debt limit Tuesday and permitted President Barack Obama's Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure extending Treasury's borrowing authority without any concessions from the White House.

The 221-201 vote came hours after Speaker John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent.

Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner and his top lieutenants. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans. Read more here.

THE ONE REPUBLICAN WHO VOTED YES: Howard Coble

STATE WILL REVIEW COAL ASH SPILL: North Carolina’s environmental agency said Tuesday that it will create a task force to review coal ash ponds in the aftermath of last week’s spill by Duke Energy on the Dan River.

The announcement came a day after the agency asked a judge to delay consideration of a settlement between the state and Duke over ash contamination at the Riverbend power plant, west of Charlotte, and its Asheville plant.

John Skvarla, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary, said his department will use “all available resources, including the knowledge we have gained during our environmental assessment and investigation into the spill of coal ash into the Dan River,” to prevent another spill. Read more here.

HALEY BARBOUR TO HELP GOP RAISE MONEY: Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina will headline the Mecklenburg County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln-Reagan Day next month.

More than 350 people are expected at the March 15 dinner at Carmel Country Club. Tickets are $75. Sponsorships cost up to $4,000. Party officials plan to use the money to help elect Republicans this year.

QUICK HITS ---

State says food stamp backlog cleared. Read more here.

Group asks judge to block coyote hunt. Read more here.

In case you missed it, Gov. Pat McCrory on Fox talking about the state’s unemployment drop. Watch it here.

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