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Five Triangle newspapers to shut down (Triangle Business Journal) -- Five small-town weekly newspapers in the Triangle – the Apex Herald, the Holly Springs Sun, Garner News, the Cleveland Post and the Fuquay-Varina Independent – will close their doors effective Aug. 1. The closings were confirmed in a news release issued by Civitas Media, the newspapers' owner based in Davidson, near Charlotte. “Our core business is focused on developing community news and information portals, in areas that are predominately rural and would not be served well otherwise,” said Michael Bush, Civitas CEO, in a news release. “The suburban newspaper isn’t a fit in this business model. We have offered employment in the Civitas Media organization to the 12 employees who are being affected by this decision.”
Tillis' DC trip provokes grumbles from Democrats, senators (WRAL-TV) -- House Speaker Thom Tillis was in Washington Wednesday as lawmakers were attempting to wind down this year's legislative session. The primary purpose of the trip was not fundraising, per se. Rather, Tillis was building the networks needed to raise money for his run to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014.
"It's all about laying the groundwork for fundraising," Paul Shumaker, Tillis’ political consultant, said.
PAY TOO PLAY: 3 fat cat Tillis donors get seats on UNC board (Raleigh News & Observer) -- A super PAC for House Speaker Thom Tillis recently raised $105,000 from five donors for his U.S. Senate race, including $70,000 from three men the House appointed to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. The contributions raise more questions about whether donations to the Republican candidate’s bid are connected to legislation in the chamber he controls. They also highlight Tillis’ ability to raise money when other lawmakers are limited in soliciting campaign contributions. Donors can make unlimited donations to Grow NC Strong, the independent super PAC Tillis supporters formed to boost his 2014 bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. Individual donors can only give $4,000 to Tillis’ state legislative campaign and $2,600 to his federal account. W.G. Champion Mitchell said his $25,000 contribution had nothing to do with his recent appointment to the university’s governing board. GOP leaders nominated more than a dozen members for the board who were elected by a House vote. “I want to see him be our next senator,” Mitchell said. “That is the answer.”
Tillis skips session to attend US Senate fundraisers in D.C. (Raleigh News & Observer) -- As the N.C. House debated a sweeping tax bill and a contentious gun resolution Wednesday, Speaker Thom Tillis spent the day raising money in Washington for his U.S. Senate bid. The Cornelius Republican attended at fundraiser at 11 a.m., the same time session started, hosted by two lobbyists at the offices of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, according to an invite. The meet-and-greet invite included information about donations up to the maximum limit of $2,600. Jade West, the association’s top lobbyist and leader of the NAW political action committee, and Kirk Blalock, a lobbyist at Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock, are the hosts.
NC lawmakers look to session end after tax deal (AP) -- With a tax overhaul heading to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk, Senate Republicans want to hurry along legislative activity with an eye toward adjourning the six-month-long session. But House counterparts aren’t in as big a rush to do it. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson and Senate Rules Committee chairman, announced from the floor Wednesday that debate for some bills would occur during a rare Saturday session. A frustrated Apodaca said later he hoped that House Republicans would stay around too and press ahead to end the session with summer now in full swing. “We’ve been here since this January. Can we not finish this up?” Apodaca told reporters. “Let’s get this done.” House rules chairman Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said later that he sees no reason to work this week beyond Thursday, as normal. Budget negotiators can remain in Raleigh to work toward finalizing a two-year spending plan that should have been enacted July 1, said Moore, who is hopeful that this year’s session can still end sometime next week.
Realtors: N.C. tax plan sets national precedent, hurts homeownership (Triangle Business Journal) -- The North Carolina Association of Realtors says the cap on mortgage interest and property-tax deductions in the state’s compromise tax-reform plan "will hurt homeowners across the state and the entire real estate economy." Previously, the state had no cap on the deductions. But House Bill 998 creates a cap, setting the combined tax break for mortgage interest and property tax deductions at $20,000. Mark Zimmerman, chairman of the state Realtor association’s legislative committee, says the cap is precedent for the state — and the nation. “Prior to this bill, to our knowledge, no government in the country has ever capped these deductions," Zimmerman said during a phone call this morning. He says the state's decision to add a cap may inspire similar actions across the nation because it's an immediate method of increasing tax revenue.
Realtors experience rare political defeat with tax bill (Raleigh News & Observer) -- When it comes to the real estate industry and politics, it’s rare that the industry ends up on the losing side of a debate no matter the party in charge. So it was somewhat surprising to see the real estate industry take it on the chin.
NC tax plan finalized, heading to McCrory's desk (AP) -- North Carolina residents will see sweeping changes to their taxes after the legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a plan that lowers income tax rates, repeals the estate tax and tinkers with the sales tax. Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign it to become law.
McCrory: Medicaid costs making budget deal harder (WRAL-TV) -- As House and Senate negotiators try to hammer out a two-year spending plan, Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that soaring Medicaid costs are endangering the viability of any budget proposal.
Tax overhaul bill would trim state gas tax, too (Raleigh News & Observer) -- North Carolina drivers scarcely noticed when the state gas tax rose on July 1 by one-tenth of a penny per gallon. So they might not notice when the tax falls again in September to its June level. The comprehensive tax overhaul legislation zooming through the General Assembly this week, which will have a big impact on income taxes, also includes a provision to reduce and freeze the gas tax, now 37.6 cents per gallon: It would be capped at 37.5 cents for almost two years -- from Sept. 1, 2013, through June 30, 2015.
State Lawmakers Pass Tax Reform Bill (WUNC-FM) -- State lawmakers have formally approved a tax reform package that would lower the personal and corporate income tax rates and end the estate tax.
New regulatory reform bill covers 'fracking,' smoking rules, more (WRAL-TV) -- A new version of House Bill 74, which contains dozens of regulatory reform issues, covers topics ranging from natural gas drilling to how covered an "outdoor" smoking area may be.
UNC student associations stand against gun proposal (Winston-Salem Journal) -- Student government associations from 11 of the 17 schools in the University of North Carolina system announced their opposition Wednesday morning to House Bill 937 in a proclamation sent to members of the N.C. General Assembly. The bill, which would allow concealed-carry permit holders to keep firearms in locked vehicles on college campuses, is currently in conference committee. The proclamation was signed by the student body presidents at Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC School of the Arts, Winston-Salem State University and UNC School of Science and Mathematics. Additionally, Robert Nunnery, president of the UNC system Association of Student Governments, also signed.
Proposed voucher program has weaker standards than other states (Raleigh News & Observer) -- A voucher program state legislators are considering would have less oversight and looser standards than other states that allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay private school tuition.
Rucho presiding again over NC Senate committee (AP) — A North Carolina state senator who left his duties as leader of the chamber's tax-writing panel is back on the job one month after a falling out with fellow Republicans on taxes.
State House tells Congress to support Second Amendment (WRAL-TV) -- The state House passed a resolution taking Congress and the president to task for proposing laws they content are infringing on the right to bear arms.
Gun rights resolution approved by NC House (AP) -- A North Carolina House debate Wednesday on a resolution backing constitutional gun rights prompted concerns from Democrats who argued that it criticized national leaders for proposing rules the resolution says would infringe on those rights.
Charlotte is 1 NC Senate vote from losing airport (AP) The North Carolina Senate is one vote away from taking Charlotte Douglas International Airport away from the city and turning over one of the country's busiest airline hubs to a regional authority. The Senate voted 32-16 on Wednesday to transfer management of US Airways' top hub to the appointed body. The transfer would take place after a final Senate vote, which could come as early as Thursday. Charlotte officials are warning they may file a lawsuit to challenge the state's move.
Tax holiday could be last one (Greensboro News & Record) -- The sales tax holiday Aug. 2-4 could be North Carolina's last. Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign legislation doing away with the tax-free weekend starting in 2014.
House approves bill to save dogs in hot cars (WRAL-TV) -- The state House gave tentative approval Wednesday to a provision that would allow emergency responders to break into a hot car to rescue an animal.
Charlotte airport control could go to NC courts (AP) -- The General Assembly is ready to transfer control of North Carolina's busiest airport away from the city of Charlotte to a new panel, but a final decision may rest with the courts.
House OKs more modest terminal groin bill (WRAL-TV) -- State House lawmakers have tentatively approved a proposal to ease restrictions on four terminal groin projects at the coast.
Another closed prison goes for $1 (Raleigh News & Observer) -- With the state’s prison population declining and some of its prisons closing, the state occasionally sells the land for a nominal buck. The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday gave the green light to selling the closed Gates Correctional Center in the northeast part of the state to Gates County for $1. The county wants to use it for emergency services functions. Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, didn’t let the issue pass without commenting about recent opposition to the deal selling the Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh for less than market value. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, had complained about the Dix deal even while sponsoring a bill in 2011 selling a closed prison in his mountains district to a community college for $1.
POLICY & POLITICS
D.C. watchdog group ranks Pat McCrory among nation’s worst (CREW) -- Barely a half-year into his term and N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has been ranked among the worst governors in the nation in a report released by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a D.C.-based government watchdog group. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released its second report examining shady and unethical conduct by the nation’s governors. In compiling the latest edition of its Worst Governors in America report, CREW reviewed the job performance of the governors of all 50 states before identifying the 18 worst. The six worst are Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The middle six are Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. Find CREW's thoughts about McCrory here.
Talk of prospective buyer for N.C. taxpayer-owned railroad (Raleigh News & Observer) -- House budget writers want the state to evaluate offers from anybody who wants to buy the state-owned N.C. Railroad – and there are rumors that a private equity firm has expressed interest.
Almost killed by GOP-led legislature, Gov’s School remains unique learning experience Salem College may be on summer break, but plenty of learning is still happening on campus. A walk along the brick paths cutting through the Old Salem institution during the past five weeks bares the evidence.
McCrory appoints 22 to Econ. Dev. Board, only 1 from Western N.C. (Carolina Public Press) -- Biltmore Farms president Jack Cecil, of Asheville, joins the board as the sole appointee from WNC. Plus: Our interactive map shows where the appointees hail from and their main business affiliations.
Hagan leads GOP field by double digits (Public Policy Polling) -- The unpopularity of the North Carolina General Assembly may be starting to take a toll on the Republican Party’s chances of ousting freshman Sen. Kay Hagan next fall. Last month, she led eight Republicans tested against her by margins of only four to nine points. In this month’s poll, that has shot up an average of six points. None of Hagan’s improvement seems to be about her personally. The Democrat continues to have about a break-even approval margin, with 43% approving and 45% disapproving of her job performance, not much different from the 41-42 measured in June. But she has 49% of the vote in all eight matchups, topping Phil Berger and Greg Brannon each by 10 points (39%), Thom Tillis by 11 (38%), Virginia Foxx by 12 (37%), Renee Ellmers and Jim Cain by 13 (36%), Mark Harris by 14 (35%), and Lynn Wheeler by 15 (34%). In the previous poll, she led Berger by only four points and Tillis by five.
State audit slams taxpayer-funded NC Rural Center (AP) -- A new state audit of the taxpayer-funded North Carolina Rural Center says the nonprofit agency has failed to provide proper oversight of millions in grants while providing excessive payments to its long-time president. The audit released Wednesday by State Auditor Beth Wood says reporting requirements on grants issued by the center were not diligently enforced and that job creation claims on five grants could not be verified. The audit also calls the $221,000 annual salary paid to president Billy Ray Hall as "not reasonable" and questions more than $241,000 in a special account to be paid to Hall if he leaves. The center is supposed to spur economic development in 85 North Carolina counties. Hall says the center maintains "the highest degree of ethical and fiscal integrity."
McCrory, Berger call for Rural Center changes after audit (WRAL-TV) -- The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center isn't keeping track of by Text-Enhance"grants it awards, is improperly keeping interest on grant funds and is overpaying its top managers, according to an audit released Wednesday.
McCrory calls for new leaders at NC Rural Center (AP) -- Gov. Pat McCrory is calling for new leadership at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center after a state audit showed the nonprofit agency failed to provide proper oversight of millions in grants while paying its longtime president too much money. McCrory called for center president Billy Ray Hall and board chairwoman Valeria L. Lee to be replaced Wednesday. That was hours after State Auditor Beth Wood issued a report saying grants awarded by the taxpayer-funded center were not diligently enforced and that job creation claims on five grants could not be verified.
Governor Calls For New Leadership At NC Rural Center (WUNC-FM) – Gov. Pat McCrory is calling for new leadership at the NC Rural Economic Development Center. This comes after a scathing audit
State audit finds 'inadequate' oversight, unreasonable pay at NC Rural Center (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The NC Rural Economic Development Center has failed to provide proper oversight of millions in state money and pays its longtime president an "unreasonable" salary of $221,000, auditors said in a report released Wednesday.
McCrory signs anti-union bill pushed by construction industry (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday signed an anti-union bill that prohibits government entities from requiring contractors to sign a project labor agreement (PLA) or other agreements with labor unions as a condition for performing work on public construction projects. The bill, which passed the legislature overwhelmingly, was pushed by the building industry, ABC Carolinas. South Carolina Nikki Haley signed a similar bill in June and North Carolina is the 18th state to sign the bill.
Company barred from doing business in N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal) -- The N.C. Attorney General’s Office said this week a Charlotte loan modification company, Lender Exchange, can no longer do business in North Carolina. Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general, said the company claimed to help people lower their mortgage payments and save their homes from foreclosure, but actually did little or nothing to help them.
McCrory signs farm bill amid abortion protest Raleigh News & Observer) -- Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill to help agriculture outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, amid tight security and abortion protests. Holding his first outside bill signing, with a large tractor as a backdrop, McCrory made official the NC Farm Act of 2013, legislation that addresses liability issues facing farmers.
Ceremony set for Charlotte light rail extension (AP) -- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is among state and local officials planning to attend a groundbreaking for the extension of Charlotte's light rail.
Federal loans, state grants available for flood victims (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The federal government will offer low-interest by loans to flooding victims in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Wednesday morning.
McCrory meets with economic development team, has Charlotte flavor (Charlotte Observer) -- Gov. Pat McCrory kicked off the state’s latest push by for job growth Wednesday morning with remarks to an economic development team that has a distinctly Charlotte flavor.
Wounded warriors, legislators to play Washington tourney (Washington Daily News) -- On July 27, Beaufort County’s legislators on the state and federal level will descend upon the Washington Yacht and Country Club golf course.
More pension flexibility for NC treasurer approved (AP) — A House panel has narrowly agreed to give State Treasurer Janet Cowell more flexibility in investing North Carolina public employee pension funds that she says is needed to meet return rates so retirement funds are sound.
Civil War ironclad's new home is ready to open (AP) -- The Confederate warship CSS Neuse has a new home in Kinston.
Camp gives visually impaired kids an opportunity to surf (Wilmington Star-News) -- "They are just so excited. They love it, and they can't wait until next year."
Girl Scouts to sell Colfax facilities (Winston-Salem Journal) -- Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont said Wednesday it plans to sell its 94-acre Triad Service Center in Colfax and find another office with a more convenient location for staff and volunteers.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Groups Win Appeal on Bonner Bridge Permit (Coastal Review) -- A Superior Court judge recently allowed two environmental groups to challenge the key state permit for the new bridge across Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.
NC Power Generation Draining State's Water Supply (Public News Service) -- The need for clean water is in a tug of war with the demand for power in North Carolina and the rest of the Southeast. The outcome will make a big difference in the amount and quality of fresh water North Carolinians have for drinking and recreation, according to a national report.
Green-Energy Mandates Find Improbable Allies (Wall Street Journal) -- Conservatives fighting against alternative-energy mandates are losing ground even in some Republican-controlled states, where legislatures are standing behind policies that force electric utilities to buy renewable energy.
Harnett farmers use innovation to help environment, save money (WRAL-TV) -- Thanks to technology, a trio of farmers in Harnett County is proving that using energy doesn't have to hurt their wallets or the environment. They're all using cutting edge technology, methods that help them avoid using fossil fuels and save money all at once.
Feds look to protect loggerhead turtles’ ocean habitats (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The federal government moved Wednesday to protect the ocean habitat of loggerhead turtles, listed since 1978 in some places as an endangered species because of threats from pollution, injury caused by fishing gear and loss of nesting beaches.
Duke gets thumbs-up on endangered fish (Charlotte Observer) -- The National Marine Fisheries Service says Duke Energy's Catawba River hydroelectric dams won't snuff out two endangered fish species, inching Duke toward a new, 50-year license to manage the river.
State’s gun permit system is safety check (Charlotte Observer) -- N.C. lawmakers have talked a lot lately about the safety of North Carolinians. They have a prime opportunity to match words to action. They should listen to the governor, the state’s attorney general and law enforcement groups and reject a Senate bill’s provision that would eliminate the state’s permit system to buy handguns.
Republicans must make their tax-reform plan work (Winston-Salem Journal) -- With the announcement that they have agreed on a new tax-reform package, Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory have disproved one Democratic contention.
Getting more bang for our US food-aid buck (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- Lawmakers are engaged in a turf war over whether agriculture or foreign policy committees should make food-aid decisions. Buying cheaper food to feed more desperate people should be a no-brainer.
Hagan re-election has hard-core right riled up … kinda (Winston-Salem Journal column) -- Some days it’s difficult determining whether the honorables in Raleigh — particularly the two who lead the House and Senate — are more concerned with politics or governing.
Tar Heel Tax Cut at Last (Wall Street Journal blog column) -- The good news is that in the end the House relented to the compromise package announced Monday. (As for Mr. Tillis, he's currently running for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Kay Hagan). Eliminating the estate tax is also significant. If North Carolina wants to attract "snow bird" retirees from the North, and pull them away from Florida, it helps to have a policy that doesn't tax seniors if they die in the state. As important is improving the state's business climate. "We had the highest income tax rates in the South, and this is hurting business here," says the governor. "This tax reform plan is a major step in restoring confidence in the economy so that employers start hiring again, and it will help us continue to attract new employers."
Where NC falls on self-defense laws (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- If George Zimmerman had shot and killed Trayvon Martin in North Carolina instead of in Florida, he still might have been acquitted of any criminal charge. North Carolina’s self-defense laws are not exactly like Florida’s, but they’re close. Too close.
Bad idea of taxing hospitals was rightly canned (Winston-Salem Journal) -- North Carolina’s hospitals felt strongly enough about losing their sales-tax exemption that they lashed out at the N.C. Chamber, the state’s largest business group. It appears to have worked.
Veterans should get break on college tuition (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Military veterans deserve all the breaks available, or that can be available, for higher education. That is a small price for a grateful society to pay.
A legacy of legal service (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Tuesday’s passing of retired Pitt County Superior Court Judge Clifton W. Everett Jr. would be notable solely for his long service to the cause of justice in eastern North Carolina.
Why we passed the airport bill (Charlotte Observer column) -- Reluctance to change and an extreme aversion to relinquishing even a scintilla of power are two hallmarks of any government bureaucracy, regardless of size. So it is understandable that city government officials would reject suggestions that they create an independent regional authority to govern Charlotte Douglas airport – even when those suggestions come from the city’s business community, duly elected state representatives and their very own airport governance consultant.
A way to save money and help community college students (Charlotte Observer column) -- Some students just aren’t ready for college. Recognizing that fact, the N.C. House has proposed a plan that could save taxpayers millions of dollars.