@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Cooper remains 'determined' on Medicaid, school bond, rural broadband

Posted February 25, 2019 7:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2019 11:20 p.m. EST

— Gov. Roy Cooper laid out his agenda for the state on Monday, telling lawmakers the state is "determined," and he's determined to move the state's economy, schools and people forward.

"In recent months, North Carolinians have been put to the test, and we've learned we’re made of strong stuff," Cooper said in his biennial State of the State address.

Many of the priorities the governor mentioned in his 40-minute speech to a joint session of the General Assembly are familiar themes from his first two years in office:

  • Higher teacher pay
  • Medicaid expansion
  • More broadband in rural areas
  • A statewide bond for more school construction
  • Free community college

Some of the proposals were big applause lines from both sides of the aisle, such as giving teachers more respect and more money and providing more funds to build new schools and renovate old ones.

Other things Cooper pushed met with little enthusiasm from Republican lawmakers, especially the almost decade-old effort by Democrats to expand Medicaid to more working adults.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger delivered the Republican response to Cooper's speech and said the GOP will hold fast to the conservative principles with which the party has governed the state for the last eight years.

"Low taxes, reasonable regulations and prudent spending decisions may not generate sensational headlines or drive clicks on websites, but it’s the basic formula for effective governing, and it’s created a boom decade for our state," said Berger, R-Rockingham. "We do not intend to stray from the low-tax and low-spending principles that have given us so much success."

Both Cooper and Berger said they recognized that the divided government voters put in place in November – the GOP lost its veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate, giving Cooper and legislative Democrats more leverage to negotiate policies and spending priorities – requires more cooperation from both sides.

"I love this state. I believe you do, too – every one of you," Cooper said. "I believe we have broad agreement on what we want for our state. We sometimes differ on how to achieve it, but let’s debate in good faith, not with political stunts, in the open, not behind closed doors, with respect for those who disagree, not disdain. We need to seek common ground and build solutions upon it."

"Effective governing sometimes means moving away from the extremes to achieve solutions that both sides can support," Berger said. "Republicans are going to have to work across the aisle, but so are Democrats. We’re going to have to choose collaboration more often than not, because that’s what effective governing requires."

Most of their addresses, however, involved speaking more to their political bases and past one another.

"Effective governing also means dealing in facts, not fanciful and unrealistic hopes and dreams, and certainly not lodging insults to distract from the merits of an issue," Berger said. "The facts of responsible Republican leadership are indisputable."

"Too often, public schools have taken a back seat to tax breaks for those at the very top," Cooper said. "We must do better."

While the governor pounded the refrain "It's time" to push for Medicaid expansion and praised everyone from a teacher to a farm family to a community college student as examples of the determination of North Carolinians, Berger spent part of his address focused on national issues such as abortion and the so-called Green New Deal and on judicial activism, which he called a "fundamental threat" to the state.

"I’m determined to make our state better. I believe you are, too," Cooper said in closing. "Let’s figure out how best to serve those who sent us here. There’s nothing a determined North Carolina can’t do."