RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged legislators on Monday night to keep fueling opportunities for the state’s citizens to succeed through more monetary investments in K-12 education, mental health services and public safety.
“Our moment to build enduring prosperity is now. And I know that North Carolina is ready,” Cooper said while delivering what’s likely his final biennial State of the State address to a joint House-Senate session at the Legislative Building.
The state of the state, the governor added at the close of his 34-minute televised speech, is “bright and energized with the promise of tomorrow.”
But Cooper — barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive four-year term in 2024 — also warned Republicans in charge of the General Assembly against passing measures that would further attempt to limit abortion access and restrict voting. He said they could slow the state’s economic engine. He pointed to other proposals that would limit how teachers can instruct students about race and sexuality and gender identity.
“I challenge this General Assembly to keep us off the front lines of those culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs so that we can continue our successful bipartisan work,” Cooper said. He referred to the economic fallout from a 2016 state law — later partially repealed — that limited which public bathrooms that transgender people could use.
While Cooper has successfully blocked other measures with his veto stamp over the past four years, Republican electoral gains in November put them only one seat shy of holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
“Use the public schools to build a brighter future, not to bully and marginalize LGBTQ students. Don’t make teachers re-write history,” Cooper said. “Keep the freedom to vote in reach for every eligible voter. Leave the decisions about reproductive health care to women and their doctors.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is widely expected to run to succeed Cooper next year, was giving the prerecorded GOP response after Cooper’s speech.
Cooper took some credit for the state’s recent successes, pointing to his focus on developing the state into a locale for the clean energy economy, particularly with recent electric vehicle industry announcements. His administration also has benefitted from federal funds to boost child care, build high-speed internet in rural areas and renovate infrastructure. Flush state coffers have helped, too.
Cooper thanked GOP legislators for passing with him a 2021 carbon emissions reduction law. He also praised the Republican announcement last week of an agreement to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults after a decade of waiting. Still, Cooper pleaded with legislators to enact it now — rather than wait a few months later — to tap into more federal money for hospitals.
On education, Cooper said his two-year budget proposal expected later this month would fund the entire remedial education spending plan that a trial judge approved in 2021 and pitch “double-digit” percentage raises for teacher and principals.
The remedial plan was designed to comply with long-ago state Supreme Court rulings that found the state is falling short on giving children the “opportunity for a sound basic education.” The legislature will approve the lawmakers’ own budget to present to Cooper.
In November, the state Supreme Court affirmed state money could be transferred to agencies to carry out the remedial plan without express General Assembly approval. But a new version of the court — flipped from a Democratic majority to Republican — said Friday it would revisit the case known as “Leandro,” named for an original lawsuit plaintiff.
In an audience that included Chief Justice Paul Newby and other justices sitting nearby, Cooper said the “court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of the children, because that’s what really matters –- the children.”
While Cooper said the “youth mental health crisis cannot be ignored,” the governor also said he would propose a plan in the coming days “that makes historic investments in the whole-person health of every North Carolinian.” He didn’t provide details.
On law enforcement improvements, Cooper said resources are needed to recruit and retain more good officers, in part through better pay and training. But he also linked such support to keeping firearms out of the hands of children, criminals and those in danger of suicide.
“In the weeks to come, let’s move forward to fight gun violence, not backward,” Cooper said. While Republicans are backing legislation to boost the safe storage of guns, they’ve also been pushing to ease gun laws this year.
Prepared text of N. Carolina Gov. Cooper speech to lawmakers
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The prepared remarks of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for the State of the State address on Monday night, as provided by the Governor’s Office:
Mr. President Pro Tempore, Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, Members of the General Assembly, Council of State, Mr. Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, Madame Chief Judge and members of the Court of Appeals, Cabinet Secretaries and my fellow North Carolinians: I am honored to join you to report on the state of our great state.
With me tonight, is my remarkable wife, our First Lady, Kristin, our three wonderful daughters, Hilary, Natalie and Claire and my son-in-law Zack and my brother Pell, all of whom I’m thankful for each and every day.
Each generation has but so many chances to leave an indelible mark on history that benefits the generations to come. And so often, our greatest advancements come after our greatest upheavals. War, protests, strife, disasters, pandemic. To find ourselves as state leaders at a time like this, is to bear a tremendous responsibility. A responsibility to learn from adversity and make things better. A responsibility that reaches far into our future.
Two-hundred and thirty-four years ago, legislative leaders following the directive in our first constitution cited “the indispensable duty …to consult the happiness of a rising generation” and chartered the first public university in the nation. Today, the positive effects of North Carolina’s great public university system reach around the globe.
Sixty years ago, a forward-looking group of North Carolinians had the vision to see a place for research and development. They recognized an urgent need to diversify our state’s economic anchors. And they worked collaboratively to do something about it. Today, we know their work as the Research Triangle Park.
Thirty-nine years ago, spotting yet another shift in industry, our leaders gathered strength from our word-class universities, medical schools and researchers to launch the North Carolina Biotechnology Center which has helped to spark a surging life sciences sector in our economy.
Time and again, overcoming adversity, our leaders had the foresight and the resolve to invest in new ideas that have revolutionized our state, impacting the generations that followed.
And while we stand on their shoulders, we also stand at an altogether new crossroads. One that demands we have the same clarity of purpose, the same innovation, the same determination that brought us here.
Our moment to build enduring prosperity is now. And I know that North Carolina is ready.
As we sit here tonight, North Carolina is cementing its place as a leader in the global clean energy economy – no longer the industry of the future, but the flourishing business of today. North Carolina is a clean energy destination, bringing good paying manufacturing jobs to parts of our state that years ago knew more factory closures than ribbon cuttings.
Consider electric vehicles, now projected to grow into a $400 billion global market in just five years. And it’s cranking up right here. From the battery manufacturing in Randolph County to the semiconductor production and the electric vehicle manufacturing in Chatham County, to the charging station production in Durham County. North Carolina has a claim to every link and every job in this fast-growing, lucrative supply chain.
The private sector electric vehicle market is about to take the world by storm and North Carolina is riding the first wave. And that means more money in the pockets of North Carolinians even as we do our part to fight climate change.
Through bipartisan cooperation here in the General Assembly, we became just the second state in the Southeast to put carbon reduction requirements into law. And through my executive orders, we’ve brought people together to plot our course to a net-zero carbon future, to cleaner transportation, and toward more renewable energy like wind and solar power. With challenges like jobs and climate change, you can only make progress when you set ambitious goals. And we’re taking action to reach those goals, because progress is never passive.
And it’s not just clean energy that’s thriving in our state. Technology, aerospace, biotechnology advanced manufacturing, and many more industries are building for growth in North Carolina. In 2022, we broke records yet again, with tens of thousands of new jobs last year alone. From the cities of Charlotte and Greensboro to the counties of Halifax and Scotland, in urban and rural areas far and wide, North Carolina continues to be the best place for people to live, learn, work and raise a family.
And we’ve made sure that’s no secret. In 2022, North Carolina was named THE number one state in the country for business.
You legislators deserve some credit for that. My administration deserves some credit for that. Our business community deserves some credit for that. But we all know who deserves the bulk of the credit: those who make up our amazing workforce – the determined, dedicated and diverse people of North Carolina.
Yep, our talented, educated workers are the foundation of our economic success. And we’ve succeeded in expanding that workforce to be more diverse and more inclusive. Like with veterans who served our great country, people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated people who’ve paid their debt to society. All are becoming integral parts of our workforce because we are being intentional about making it happen.
And as our growth accelerates, we must not forget that once-in-a-generation opportunities require once-in-a-generation investments. Because these new jobs require more skill, the education pipeline from early childhood all the way through community college and universities is more important than ever.
A great workforce requires real investment from cradle to career. And it starts with early childhood education at quality child care centers. With federal resources initiated by the Biden Administration, we have invested more than $800 million to stabilize child care, helping centers with great teachers stay open, and helping North Carolina parents get back to work. It’s a triple play, guys: education for the child, a job earning money for the parent, and a badly needed employee for the business. We need to fill them with high quality staff and keep those child care centers open.
One child care leader is with us tonight. Rhonda Rivers is the Regional Director of Curriculum and Training for LeafSpring Schools in Charlotte. Her centers used our child care grants to give bonuses to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Rhonda has said that these grants helped her keep good teachers who might have been forced to go elsewhere even though they love their jobs. For all they do for children, parents and businesses, let’s give Rhonda and her colleagues a hand for their amazing work.
We know that a great workforce also relies on public schools. Educating the next generation of workers who will fill the jobs that we haven’t even yet imagined is how we stay an economic powerhouse. And we know that 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 the funding to support every student from every walk of life.
Now, I know many of you on the Republican side of the aisle don’t believe the N.C. Supreme Court should be able to order you to invest more in our children’s education to comply with the constitution. But the Court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of the children, because that’s what really matters – the children.
The education investments ordered by the Court are the right thing to do not only for our children, but our parents, our workforce and our businesses.
We have the money this year and next to fund the plan. And if we’re smart about our tax policy, we can fund it into the future. The budget I will present to you invests in the entire education plan ordered by the court. It gives teachers and principals double digit raises, it keeps the buses running, it helps kids with special needs, it keeps schools safe, it does not raise taxes and it balances the budget.
Supporting students also means more mental health care. The youth mental health crisis cannot be ignored.
Just ask Meredith Draughn who’s here with us tonight. Meredith experiences this crisis up close. As a school counselor at B. Everett Jordan Elementary School in Alamance County, Meredith sees firsthand the increasing number of children dealing with stress and anxiety. Her support is critical to their well-being and can be life-saving. All our counselors, teachers and school staff play a vital role in student mental health. And we are so proud that Meredith was named the 2023 National School Counselor of the Year. Let’s give Meredith a hand.
With federal funds, I’ve already directed tens of millions of dollars to this critically important effort, including mental health first aid that helps teachers and school staff recognize the signs of a child in crisis. And in the coming days, I’ll propose a plan that makes historic investments in the whole-person health of every North Carolinian. It will save lives, save government resources and pay dividends for decades to come.
The education pipeline continues with our community colleges and universities that are central to the educated workforce of the future. In every corner of our state, community colleges are coordinating directly with local industry and workforce development boards. They’re creating hands-on training programs that help their graduates cross the stage with a degree or credential AND a job offer in hand. I’ve worked with you legislators in a bipartisan way to make sure people can get this training through Longleaf Commitment grants, Finish Line grants and other community college funding. Let’s keep at it.
We have the very best array of public and private universities, including more four-year HBCUs than any state in the country. In order for our public universities to stay great, our leaders on the University Board of Governors and Trustees must reflect the broad demographic and political diversity in our state. That’s why I created the bipartisan Commission on the Future of Public Universities to propose changes to the way our university leadership is selected to better reflect who we are. I ask you to carefully consider their report.
We must maintain a world-class education system, keep our amazing state employee workforce, build infrastructure, make sure people are healthy and make other investments to keep our state thriving. That requires a smart tax policy. Now, before the finger pointing starts, l want to be clear – we do not need to raise taxes.
But even the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce has said that our current corporate tax rates are already competitive. The jobs are coming fast and furious to North Carolina now and more tax cuts for those at the top will stunt our growth when we should be investing in our workforce. We don’t need more tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest North Carolinians.
In addition to education, we’re tackling the challenge of our robust growth with more critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports and rail. And thanks to the generational investments of the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law we’re investing more than $2 billion to do what once seemed a faraway dream. We’re going to ensure that every home in North Carolina has access to high-speed internet.
And our Office of Digital Equity and Literacy – the first in the nation – is working to ensure that everyone can get online with affordable devices and good training.
Getting more people online means healthier communities. That’s something Phyllis Pillmon knows well. Phyllis lives in Ahoskie, and she’s here tonight with Kim Schwartz, the CEO of Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, to highlight the remarkable ways that telemedicine can benefit our state. Phyllis has a hybrid plan of care where she sees her regular doctor in person while connecting with specialists as far away as Charlotte. That’s a 280-mile gap that Phyllis and her specialist can span in just seconds. Phyllis, we’re glad you’re online and Kim, we’re glad your center provides this valuable service for people in Eastern North Carolina! Let’s give them a hand.
We’re also using federal funds to make historic investments in clean water. Across the country, we’ve seen the consequences of neglected water systems, particularly in our rural communities. Without reliable clean drinking water, families struggle, new business won’t come to town, and communities can wither.
Travelling the state, I’ve heard stories from families who can’t wash their clothes regularly because the water’s brown, about pipes that freeze and break when it’s cold, about frequent boil alerts because the water may not be safe. Now those stories will change.
In a normal year, our state invests around $200 million in clean water infrastructure. But with this new federal funding, we’re investing more than $2.3 billion over two years to rebuild hundreds of water systems in nearly every county in our state.
The town of Ivanhoe in Sampson County got one of those grants because Russell Devane, who’s here tonight, worked with other members of his community and with local and state government to highlight the problem resulting in $13.2 million to bring clean water to his town. Let’s give Russell and all the community leaders who are working to make life better for their residents a big hand.
Tonight, I’ve stressed how we are at a pivotal moment with unprecedented opportunities to benefit the generations to come. We are seizing that moment by expanding Medicaid. I’m grateful for our unified Democratic legislators and some Republicans who have been relentless for years in this effort to expand Medicaid. I commend the Republican leadership of this legislature for now embracing this and coming together in agreement. I also deeply appreciate the many health care professionals and advocates from all walks of life who have worked tirelessly to get this done. When we get Medicaid expansion across the finish line, it will save lives.
Tonight, I bring a message of urgency that I hope all of you will keep at heart. Every month we wait to expand not only costs lives but costs our state more than $521 million a month in federal health care dollars. And if we don’t expand soon, we will forfeit an additional $1.8 billion in Health Care Access and Stabilization or HASP funds that our hospitals will never get back, and that would be particularly hard on our rural hospitals. No business would make that kind of financial decision. Finally, we all now agree on Medicaid expansion, we all now agree on how to do it and we all now agree on what other health care laws will be changed with it. For mental health. For working families. For rural hospitals. For a healthier North Carolina. For $1.8 billion we can’t afford to leave behind. Let’s expand Medicaid now.
Another group that has frequently called for Medicaid expansion is our law enforcement officers. They witness every day the consequences of people who need mental health care instead of handcuffs. As one sheriff told me, jails are our biggest mental health facilities. That’s a problem we need to solve.
We need law enforcement focused on protecting our communities. And there’s more we can do to reduce crime and keep communities safe while making sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and without prejudice. My Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has offered smart solutions, like a duty for officers to intervene. And I was glad that the legislature took action on that recommendation to pass a bipartisan bill that I signed. Let’s continue that important work as there is more to do. And let’s invest the resources to recruit and retain more good law enforcement officers and support them with the better pay and training they deserve.
Let’s take affirmative steps to make life safer for these brave law enforcement officers and everyday people by keeping guns away from children, criminals and those who are a danger to themselves or others. This is especially true now that death by gunfire has surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury deaths for children. A recent report found that in 2021, children in N.C. were 51% more likely to die from gun violence than children in the U.S. as a whole. If you support the responsible gun ownership that we are granted under the Second Amendment as I do, then we cannot accept this. In the weeks to come, let’s move forward to fight gun violence, not backward.
At the outset of my time as governor, I set a clear goal. I wanted North Carolinians to be healthier, better educated, with more money in their pockets and to have lives of purpose and abundance. And though we still have hard work ahead – for working families, hurricane survivors, and those who feel forgotten and left behind – I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made as a state. Progress that’s been possible because we’ve agreed on economic development strategies and worked to create a good business environment with the best employees in the world. Avoiding the worst of the culture wars these past six years has also been good for business. We worked together in a bipartisan way to fully repeal the horrible bathroom bill the first year I took office. And as we look to the future, I challenge this General Assembly to keep us off the front lines of those culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs so we can continue our successful bipartisan work.
Use public schools to build a brighter future, not to 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 health care to women and their doctors.
We must not go backward when so much promise lies ahead.
In my six years as governor, you legislators and I have found plenty to disagree about. But we have found areas of common ground to strengthen our communities, create opportunity, and make our state more resilient and prepared for the future.
Many of us here have a deep faith in God. We share common aspirations. We want safe communities, good jobs and an affordable quality of life. We want to give our children more and better opportunities than we had.
This has always been North Carolina’s story: good people from diverse communities coming together to build a common future. I know that fierce debate will continue, but I appreciate that regardless of perspective, the men and women who serve in this body share a love of our state and a respect for the responsibility that comes with public service. We must commit wherever possible to pursue together our shared ambitions for our great state.
The leaders who steered us through the crossroads of the last century kept front and center the promise of the future. Building on their foresight, North Carolina’s growth and success have eclipsed anything that seemed possible. Now, it’s on us to lay the foundation for North Carolina’s next transformation that promises progress and growth for the generations ahead.
Today, I stand before you to report that the state of our state is bright and energized with the promise of tomorrow.
As we envision tomorrow and all the days that follow, let’s work toward a North Carolina where the doors of opportunity are wide open, bursting with possibility for everyone. A North Carolina where hope abounds. A North Carolina where strong growth is made possible by the investments we make today – in our classrooms, in our economy, in our communities, and in our people.
Thank you and may God bless North Carolina and the United States of America.