WATCH: NC Gov. Roy Cooper delivers State of the State address

State News

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper recalled the pain and courage stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic in his State of the State address on Monday, while urging Republicans to cooperate with him this year on health care, education and infrastructure needs.

“In a year of hardship and loss, we owe it to ourselves and to each other – and, as leaders, we owe it to the people who elected us – to build a state that is truly more educated, equitable, healthier and prosperous,” Cooper said in a televised speech to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chamber.

He mourned the deaths of more than 12,500 people from the coronavirus in North Carolina and a pandemic that laid bare “the inequities that were already here” in public schools, high-speed internet and health care access. “But if we can harness all we have learned from our loss, we can boost opportunities for all.”

He also highlighted the service of several North Carolina residents during the pandemic, including a teacher, child care center owner, health care providers and National Guard member. They didn’t attend the speech due to space restrictions.

“The state of our state is strong. And that’s because the character of our communities is even stronger,” he said during the 33-minute speech.

Cooper’s third State of the State address — and the first since he was reelected in November — came as Senate Republicans are but a few weeks away from passing a two-year budget proposal.

The governor offered a budget plan last month that would spend $27.3 billion next year. He pitched again on Monday night for big teacher raises and K-12 schools spending increases contained in his proposal, as well as a $4.7 billion bond referendum and expanding Medicaid coverage to cover hundreds of thousands of adults.

Republicans believe Cooper’s budget spends too much, and Medicaid expansion remains a nonstarter for Republican leaders. Cooper’s unwillingness to budge on expansion in 2019 contributed to a state budget stalemate that never got fully resolved.

Cooper told Republicans on Monday that it was never a better time to increase Medicaid coverage, citing access to additional federal funds and the increased need for coverage among people who were thrown out of work during the pandemic.

“Circumstances about Medicaid expansion have changed dramatically since we debated it in the last budget,” he said. “Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done.”

The governor and Republican leaders have expressed guarded optimism that a budget impasse won’t happen again in new fiscal year that begins July 1. The executive and legislative branches have worked in a more conciliatory fashions far this year, particularly on how to spend federal coronavirus relief dollars and a recent compromise to get all schools reopened to in-person learning.

Republican majorities in both the House and Senate still aren’t large enough for the GOP to override vetoes on its own. A similar dynamic in 2019 and 2020 meant none of Cooper’s 25 vetoes were overridden.

“There is going to have to be some give and take in order for us to get this done,” Cooper said in a comment directed at Republicans. “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.”

House Speaker Tim Moore gave the GOP response.

Cooper reiterated his call for cooperation hours after he and Republican legislative leaders celebrated North Carolina landing Apple Inc.’s first East Coast campus and 3,000 new jobs over the next decade. The two parties worked on laws to sweeten incentives for companies promising big investment and employment.

“You might have heard today that a little technology company from California has decided to move here,” Cooper quipped.

Cooper lamented the pain caused by racial discrimination across the nation and in the state, particularly over the past week — an indirect reference to a fatal shooting of a Black man by law enforcement in Pasquotank County.

“We must confront systems that favor some and harm others. And we must fix them,” he said.

The State of the State address happened later on the calendar than usual due to safety concerns during the pandemic. Overall attendance was limited within the House chamber. Cooper’s wife and adult children watched him on their TVs.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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