Gov. Roy Cooper mixed some of the resiliency themes he introduced in his inaugural address with promotion of his budget priorities and hopes for bipartisan agreement in his State of the State address Monday night.
Cooper, a Democrat, fist-bumped with legislators as he made his way down the center aisle of the House chamber before and after his address to state representatives and senators.
Cooper heaped praise on the generosity and ingenuity of residents and businesses the pandemic as he urged more bipartisan agreement in state government.
“North Carolinians want us to work together like they have had to,” he said. “Members of the legislature, we know we can find common ground because we have done it before.”
In the Republican response, House Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans and Cooper have many of the same goals, but different ideas for reaching them. The state should “stay the course” with “smart budgeting, regulatory reforms, and tax cuts,” Moore said.
Even as he stressed bipartisanship and talked about passing a budget that both he and Republican legislative leaders could sign, Cooper again emphasized his support for Medicaid expansion, one of the sticking points that has prevented adoption of a comprehensive state budget since 2018.
North Carolina is one of a dozen states that has not adopted Medicaid expansion. An expansion-like bill sponsored by House Republicans never made it out of that chamber last session, and leading Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected the idea.
Cooper said the landscape has changed in the last year – the federal government is offering financial incentives to states that have yet expanded, more people are without health insurance due to pandemic-related job losses, and the state will move to Medicaid managed care in two months.
A bipartisan group of businesspeople, health care providers, legislators and others met last winter to develop principles for insuring more residents.
“Expanding Medicaid does all the things we agreed on in our bipartisan council meetings,” Cooper said. “It gets more people covered. It makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas. Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done.”
Affordable higher education and greater investments in education will make North Carolinians prepared for the jobs the state is attracting, Cooper said.
Both Cooper and Moore referenced Apple’s decision to build a $1 billion campus in Research Triangle Park and bring 3,000 jobs to the state.
Cooper also pushed for direct aid to businesses hit hardest in the pandemic – restaurants, hotels, and tourism, for his proposed school construction bond, clean energy jobs, and broadband expansion.
“We have a plan and the money to stretch high-speed internet to our state’s farthest corners,” he said. “And we should use them both to get this done.”
Cooper called on the state to end racial injustice.
Black and Latinx communities have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 was a summer of nationwide protests against law enforcement officers killing unarmed Black people.
While Cooper was speaking Monday, protesters gathered in Elizabeth City over a county deputy shooting Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man, last week. The shooting has drawn national attention.
“We must face head on the stark reality of systemic racism, and how it hurts people and leaves them behind—who gets to see a doctor, who gets hired for a job, who gets charged with a crime, who gets prison time, who gets killed,” Cooper said.
“Over the past year, and just in the past week, we’ve seen the harm suffered by too many people of color in our state and across the country. And I want to say clearly: We must all stand together to stop racial injustice in North Carolina. Everyone should have opportunity and everyone should be able to feel safe in their own homes and communities without fear of authority who should be there to protect them.”
The state has about $5 billion in unreserved cash in its general fund because it has not had a new all-round budget since 2018.
Moore said Cooper would push for increases in state programs, bureaucracy and spending, while Republicans “will use this one-time surplus of funds on capital projects and sectors to invest in our state.”
Moore talked about a law passed this year requiring school districts to offer summer school, a House bill that would give tax breaks to the businesses that received PPP loans, and voter ID.
Legislators are working on bipartisan criminal justice laws that would “end disparities while continuing to respect our law enforcement officers,” he said.
A bipartisan House bill would require a law enforcement officer to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.
A Senate Republican bill would increase penalties on people who “engage in a riot.”