RALEIGH — After two years of stalemate with the General Assembly, Gov. Roy Cooper used his “State of the State” address to pressure lawmakers to embrace his priorities — expanding Medicaid and dramatically increasing state spending.
Cooper, a Democrat, touted his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and took credit for keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed. Moving forward, he said, will require the General Assembly to “step up.”
“Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done,” Cooper said, pounding the podium on the House floor. “I don’t want to have to veto the budget, and I will do my part to see that we have a budget, and I expect you to do yours.”
His 30-minute speech Monday, April 26, broke little new ground, largely echoing the $55.9-billion budget proposal he put forward late last month. Cooper pleaded with lawmakers to embrace his proposal and increase spending on a litany of liberal priorities.
This started with expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend taxpayer-funded health insurance to several hundred thousand working-age adults without children. The federal government and the state would share costs.
Cooper also called for increasing teacher pay, noting that teachers did not receive a pay raise in the most recent budget cycle, as no new budget was passed. Cooper has vetoed every teacher pay raise but one that’s been sent to his desk.
Other priorities he highlighted included spending money on clean energy to fight the “climate crisis” and borrowing billions of dollars for infrastructure.
“There’s some real good ideas in there,” he said.
Republican response pledges tax relief
Cooper’s speech contrasted sharply with a response pre-recorded by House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. Moore called on the General Assembly to resist Cooper’s insistence on massive spending increases.
“We know that this is a recipe for unsustainable budgeting that will eventually lead to painful cuts or tax hikes in the near future,” he said.
Instead, he said North Carolina should stay on a fiscally conservative course and further reduce taxes.
Moore touted the state’s run of budget surpluses and tax cuts that have spurred economic growth. He foreshadowed a House budget that would invest in expanding broadband access and spend more money on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. This could be paid for with a bond, federal dollars, or the state’s reserve fund, he said.
The General Assembly’s budget will also likely include some form of tax cut. Moore said Republican leadership was looking at several ways to extend tax relief.
“We believe state government shouldn’t spend a penny more than it has to, and should return anything extra to the taxpayers whose money it is in the first place,” he said.