Gov. Roy Cooper’s second State of the State address included plenty of proposals liberals and Democrats cheered. But Republicans and conservatives, who dominate the General Assembly that would put these policies into effect, aren’t likely to embrace many of them.
The governor’s speech focused on rural economic development, along with higher spending for traditional public schools, job training, and infrastructure. The applause for expanded state government largely fell along party lines, with Democratic lawmakers giving the governor regular standing ovations while Republicans remained seated.
Cooper also called for better communication, engagement, and collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, the administration and the legislature.
He opened the address recounting the resilience of a victim of Hurricane Florence who lost her home and was living in a Wilmington shelter. Noting her gratitude, Cooper said, “the state of our state is determined.”
The governor highlighted several themes:
- He called for Medicaid expansion.
- He predicted climate change will increase the severity of storms, requiring new infrastructure spending in vulnerable areas.
- He said tax cuts had reduced money available for public education.
- He called for higher teacher and principal pay, promising a budget that “will put our schools and our teachers first.”
- He urged more spending on pre-K slots and the NC Teaching Fellows program, which covers college costs for graduates who teach for at least four years in North Carolina.
- He called on lawmakers to place a school construction bond on the ballot for voter approval.
- He defended taxpayer incentives to attract businesses.
- He repeated his call to provide community college, tuition-free, for “high-demand jobs.”
- He urged expansion of rural broadband service using public-private partnerships.
- He reiterated his call to extend the ban on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
In response, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he learned from the 2018 election that North Carolinians want the governor and the General Assembly to come together and solve problems. He said government should set reasonable rules that apply to everyone and then largely get of the way.
He contrasted Republicans and Democrats, saying the GOP’s insistence on “low taxes, reasonable regulations, and prudent spending decisions” have led to record job growth, tax collections, and yearly teacher pay increases.
Then he rejected what he called Democrats’ “radical policies like abortion-on-demand and the socialism inherent in pie in the sky proposals like the Green New Deal.”
Berger also promoted policies to promote opportunities for disadvantaged residents, led by school choice, both opportunity scholarships and charter school growth. He noted NC Promise, the program allowing in-state students to attend UNC Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University, and Western Carolina University for tuition rates of $500 a semester.
And Berger highlighted the recent decision by Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins, which struck down two constitutional amendments approved by voters in November. Collins ruled the amendments were placed on the ballot by “usurpers” elected from unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts.
“An unrestrained judiciary advancing political theories and political agendas that nobody elected a judge to bring about is a fundamental threat to the ideas our state and this country were founded upon,” Berger said.
Berger also indirectly challenged Cooper to fill the vacancy on the state Supreme Court resulting from the resignation of Republican Chief Justice Mark Martin and the elevation of Democratic Justice Cheri Beasley with a Republican.
Cooper hasn’t named a successor.