Raleigh, N.C. — Two days after Gov. Roy Cooper expanded his challenge to recent laws passed by the Republican-led General Assembly, he told reporters and county officials from across the state Thursday that he is eager to find common ground with lawmakers on a variety of issues.
"We've got a lot we can agree on," Cooper said at a news conference where he named two more cabinet nominees. "They will find a willing partner in me."
The governor said he was confident he and Republican legislative leaders could forge a consensus on raising teacher salaries, boosting job growth statewide and battling opioid addiction, among other issues. But he also tossed out two topics that lawmakers have been either openly critical or leery of: Medicaid expansion and an infrastructure bond.
In remarks to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, Cooper said he wants local officials' support to "shape a North Carolina-specific plan" to expand Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. He said it would create thousands of jobs, especially in rural communities, and improve the state's overall health.
Lawmakers have castigated Cooper for his unilateral attempt at expanding Medicaid, which they said runs afoul of laws put in place a few years ago to block such moves without legislative approval. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called the effort "brazenly illegal" last week when Cooper first broached the subject.
Berger, R-Rockingham, has reiterated this week "his expectation that the governor will follow the law and not unilaterally expand Obamacare," said his spokeswoman Amy Auth.
In his remarks to the Senate on Wednesday during the opening day of the 2017 legislative session, Berger did list raising teacher salaries to an average of $55,000 a year and continued improvement of the state's economy among his goals for the session.
Cooper also told county commissioners that he wants to craft a state bond program that would address not only roads and bridges but infrastructure such as high-speed Internet access and school construction.
"We know you face challenges and limited revenue options," he told commissioners. "When you're out there and you're deciding to raise people's property taxes, it's tough. ... The state can find more broad-based ways to do this."
Lawmakers have been reluctant to add to the state's debt load. They left transportation projects out of the Connect NC bond issue that voters approved last year to focus on university and community college needs.
Relations between Cooper and legislative leaders have been rocky since he claimed victory in the gubernatorial election. Lawmakers took advantage of a special session for disaster relief to pass laws undercutting his power – he has filed a lawsuit alleging their actions were illegal – and a failed effort to repeal the state's controversial law limiting LGBT rights produced lots of finger-pointing on both sides.
"Even if you've got the partisan hyperbole out there, that's not going to stop me from talking about issues," Cooper said at his news conference. "It would be great if we could dial all of that down, because I think the public is sick of it, and they're ready for us to work together. But regardless of whether it's dialed down, I'm ready to work with them and look forward to doing it."
House Speaker Tim Moore also sounded conciliatory this week in remarks to reporters during the opening day of the 2017 legislative session.
"We will always work through those differences, and I certainly expect the governor to advocate for the position that he has, but certainly, we at the legislature will do the same thing," said Moore, R-Cleveland.
"I think we owe it to the governor to work with him, to consult with him, to find areas where we can agree, but when it comes to how we’re going to spend money and tax policy, I think we’ve set a clear path," he said.