The governor called on the state legislature to expand Medicaid, fund education and address racial injustices in his “State of the State” address.
As North Carolina begins to inch its way out of the pandemic, it’s time to start making sure everyone in the state is set up to succeed, Gov. Roy Cooper said in his annual “State of the State” address Monday night.
That’s why politicians in the state, including Cooper and the Republican-controlled state legislature, need to start working together to figure out a way to get more people healthcare, fix the state’s schools and make sure everyone can access quality education, he said.
“It’s time for us to step up, as the elected leaders,” he said. “North Carolinians want us to work together like they have had to do.”
Cooper’s also hoping to get a $4.7 billion general obligation bond package on the ballot this November, where voters would decide if the state should borrow money to build new schools and government buildings. The American Jobs Act, if passed by Congress could separately inject a lot of federal money into the state to fix roadways, repair bridges and do more.
“We can afford it, it’ll create jobs, and we’re never going to get a better deal,” Cooper said. “So let’s come together and pass a strong bond referendum, so we can get all of this done.”
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Cooper’s speech (which you can watch in its entirety here or read here).
1. Continued Push to Vaccinate
Though more than 12,000 people in the state have died from COVID-19 complications, the state has seen less suffering than other parts of the country with more deaths and job losses per capita.
Cooper credited the willingness of people in the state, from neighbors dropping off meals to businesses pivoting to make personal protective equipment, for getting the state through the worst of the pandemic.
Vaccines are now available to anyone over age 16.
So far, nearly 50% of the state’s adults are partially vaccinated, and nearly 40% are fully vaccinated. Older North Carolinians are lining up for their shots, Cooper pointed out, with 72% of those over 65 fully vaccinated.
“Every dose is another person saved, another family closer to immunity,” he said.
2. Expand Medicaid for Healthcare Access
North Carolina is one of only 12 states in the nation that has not taken the federal government up on its offer to expand Medicaid, a move that would give more than 500,000 people access to healthcare.
And the state’s hospitals, including those in rural areas, say they need expansion to help their communities get healthier and stay afloat financially with high numbers of uninsured patients.
The holdup has been with the NC legislature, where Republican leaders have not been open to the program closely associated with former President Barack Obama. But things have changed, Cooper said. The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress included financial incentives for states like North Carolina that haven’t yet expanded, and the federal government would pay for a larger share of the state’s share of the existing program if they expand Medicaid now.
Expanding Medicaid “gets more people covered. It makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas.”
Cooper ended with a plea to lawmakers, “Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done.”
3. Better Paid Teachers, Better Funded Schools
Cooper also said the time is now to have the state live up to its promise in the NC Constitution to provide a “sound, basic education” to every child.
The state hasn’t been doing that, the courts found in the long-running Leandro lawsuit and the major reason why has been funding, which largely comes from the state and is decided by the state legislature.
Cooper urged state lawmakers to make funding schools a priority, including more funding for early education and teacher raises.
“If we want to recruit and keep the best educators, we need to pay them better,” he said. “Too many of our teachers are working multiple jobs — and it’s still not enough.”
4. Bring Clean Energy Jobs to NC
With climate change a real threat, Cooper encouraged the state legislature to encourage more clean energy jobs in the state. He pointed out the state is surging ahead with solar, but there’s more potential for off-shore wind farms and other clean energy technologies.
“This industry is racing toward us with thousands of good-paying jobs that will strengthen our economy and our planet,” he said.
5. Addressing Racism in NC
With the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies just last week, Cooper also called for an end to racial injustice in North Carolina.
Too many have been victimized by racism in the state’s various structures, Cooper said. It affects who gets a quality education, who gets to see doctors, who gets hired for a job and who might be stopped by police, arrested, or even killed.
“We’ve seen the harms suffered by too many people of color in our state and across the country,” Cooper said. “I want to say clearly, we must all stand together to stop racial injustice in North Carolina.”