Cooper offers the legislature a prescription it must fulfill

Published March 9, 2023

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

Gov. Roy Cooper presented the North Carolina legislature with a prescription it must fulfill.

“A responsibility to learn from adversity and make things better,” he said as he opened his State of the State Address Monday evening in the House Chamber of the State Legislative Building which is celebrating its 60th year of occupancy. Cooper harkened to another milestone of that time – the establishment of the Research Triangle Park – demonstrating “the foresight and resolve to invest in new ideas that have revolutionized our state impacting the generations that followed.”
The style and presentation were in keeping with the way Cooper’s governed – pressing for cooperation, conciliation and investment in the future while eschewing confrontation, partisan cheap shots and unproductive lamentations on a false past.

Still, he was direct and firm about the agenda North Carolina needs. Cooper wasn’t reserved about letting legislative leaders know what needs to be done and where he believes they are going astray. The 35-minute speech was interrupted 31 times with affirming applause.

In direct contrast to legislative leaders’ declaration that tax cuts were their top priority, Cooper called for investments.

“Progress is never passive,” he reminded the legislators. “You can only make progress when you set ambitious goals.” These times, he said, present “once-in-a-generation opportunities (that) require once-in-a-generation investments.”

A quality workforce is dependent on a top-quality public education – from pre-school through our public universities. “A sound, basic education, as required by our state constitution, calls for qualified teachers in every classroom, skilled principals in every school, excellent counselors and funding to support every student from every walk of life.”

He called on the state Supreme Court not to backtrack. “The court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of children,” he said.

“We have the money,” Cooper declared and promised a budget that will “invest in the entire education plan ordered by the court” to give teachers and principals double-digit raises, make sure kids can get to school and that those schools are safe. “It does not raise taxes and it balances the budget.”

Hear it clearly, as Cooper said about his proposals and the budget he’ll send to the General Assembly. “We do not need to raise taxes,” while adding with equal emphasis: “We don’t need more tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest North Carolinians.”

Along with his concern over the 25 years of procrastination in meeting the needs of North Carolina’s school children, Cooper rightly called on legislators to end the decade-long refusal to expand Medicaid and do it now -- without their planned delay.

“Every month we wait to expand, not only cost lives, but costs our state more than $521 million a month in federal healthcare dollars,” he said, adding the warning that “if we don’t expand soon, we forfeit an additional $1.8 billion.”

That is bad management that hurts the state budget no differently than failure to expand Medicaid has hurt more than 600,000 North Carolinians who haven’t been able to access the health care they need.

Avoiding any direct confrontation or bullying finger-pointing, Cooper did take note of the kinds of legislation that, in the first weeks of the legislative session, has taken top priority. Cooper noted that when he took office six years ago, one of the first acts was to do away with the ill-conceived and costly so-called “bathroom bill” that resulted in cancelled economic development projects and moved or cancelled billions of dollars in convention, athletic championship and tourism business.

“I challenge the General Assembly to keep us off the frontlines of those culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs so we can continue our successful bipartisan work.”

He closed with a call for unity of purpose that was in stark contrast to the heated and confrontational rhetoric that so seems to dominate our public discourse.

They are words worth taking to heart – regardless of political affiliation.

“Use public schools to build a brighter future, not bully and marginalize LGBTQ students. Don’t make teachers re-write history. Keep the freedom to vote in reach for every eligible voter. Leave the decisions about reproductive healthcare to women and their doctors.”

Legislators should embrace Cooper’s focus on the things that matter most – a healthier, better educated state with a workforce that earns a decent living and the opportunity to live lives “of purpose and abundance.”

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