Gov. Roy Cooper delivered his first State of the State address Monday night to a joint session of the legislature where he called on the General Assembly for cooperation and compromise but also called for the full repeal of HB2, often called the bathroom bill, passed in 2016.
“The North Carolina Constitution directs the governor to come to the legislature, and I quote, ‘Give to the General Assembly information on the affairs of the state and recommend to their considerations such measures as he shall deem expedient,’ end quote,” he said. “Our constitution mandates that we work together to make North Carolina better. And it charges the governor to participate in the legislative process. That constitutional directive, and your kind invitation is why I come tonight.”
Cooper said that the state’s future looked promising at the beginning of his administration as governor.
“I want to begin by reporting to you that the state of our state is promising,” he said. “It is promising because of our universities and our community colleges, because of our farms and our factories, our research triangle park, our banking headquarters, but most of all because of the hardworking people of our state who want it to succeed.”
It wasn’t long though before Cooper segued into his call to repeal HB2.
“Our people are welcoming, our people are welcoming, but some of our laws are not,” he said. “I’m going to say this first thing because of the urgency and to go ahead and get it out of the way. Tonight I call on the legislature once again to repeal HB2. The law has damaged our state. The legislature must erase this law from our books. Pass a clean repeal of HB2 and I will sign it the same day. Pass a compromise bill that works to eliminate discrimination and brings back some jobs and sports and entertainment and I will sign it as long as it truly gets the job done. I also raise this issue at the beginning because HB2 is the dark cloud hanging over our state of promise.”
During his speech Cooper called for free community college programs, a return of the teaching fellows program, teacher raises and other education investments, infrastructure investments, and the expansion of high-speed Internet to the rural areas of the state, all without a tax increase.
“I want North Carolinians to be better educated, healthier, and have more money in their pockets,” he said. “There are too many people that are stuck in the middle, not wealthy by any measure, that are doing just well enough that the social safety net isn’t there for them. They feel left behind by a system that isn’t listening to them and an economy that isn’t rewarding them for their hard work.”
Cooper says his budget plan would feed the state’s savings coffers, spend on investments in the state and do so without a tax increase.
“My budget contains no tax increases, it rejects the false choice of either saving or investing,” he said.
Cooper’s budget represents a 5.1 percent increase over last year’s budget.
Cooper said his budget would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the state rainy day fund, but Cooper criticized the amount of money in the fund during his campaign, just before Hurricane Matthew tore through the eastern part of the state and wildfires burned over the western part of the state at the end of 2016.
Cooper called on the legislature to look past partisan battles, power struggles and lawsuits, of which there are already many in between Cooper and the legislature, brought by Cooper, and to work together for the betterment of all North Carolinians.
Cooper called on the legislature to work with him to continue to increase teacher pay in the state to give an average 10 percent raise over the next two years.
The legislature has given teachers multiple raises over the last few years and Cooper hopes to build on that to make North Carolina the leader in teacher pay in the south by 2020.
“Let’s put our money where our trust is and let’s raise teacher salaries,” he said. “My plan gives an average 10 percent raise over the next two years, on this pace we can bring teacher salaries to best in the south in three years and to at least the national average in five years. My budget gives every single teacher a raise.”
Cooper made a few promises to the legislature regarding cooperation and compromise coming from the Governor’s Mansion.
“In order to maintain North Carolina as a state of promise, I’ll make a few promises, I promise to listen, to engage, to build consensus, to compromise, when possible,” he said. “I promise to fight only when we can’t come to agreement, or when you leave me no choice. I promise to make sure state government employs people who look like the people it represents.”
Following Cooper’s address Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) delivered the Republican response.
“Good evening. This is the second time I’ve had the privilege to give the Republican response to a Democratic governor’s State of the State address,” he said. “Six years ago, Republicans had just assumed leadership of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Former Speaker and current U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and I stood before you then to chart a new course for our state. Our vision was simple: trust more in the people of North Carolina, not in the institutions of government.”
Berger repeated some of his 2010 comments saying, “There are new majorities and 43 new lawmakers in this General Assembly. The state of our economy is grim. And North Carolina faces serious challenges. But instead of maintaining the status quo, and continuing the failed policies that got us in this mess, we’re working to usher in a new era of government responsibility and accountability. For far too long, decision-making in these halls has been driven by the belief that government has all the answers, and government can fix almost any problem. Republicans have a better plan. House and Senate Republicans are passing legislation that empowers citizens to make their own decisions about health care, create their own wealth, control their own education, and pave their own way to a brighter future.”
No longer reciting his past statement, Berger said, “You’ve heard politicians promise to curb government growth and return money to taxpayers before. But I want you to imagine something with me for a moment; suppose a group of candidates launched a campaign promising to do some very big, very different, and very bold things. A platform guided by the simple maxim, ‘that government is best which governs least.’ These candidates are crystal clear about the direction they want to take the state. And when they get elected, they immediately start doing exactly what they said they’d do.
“As promised, they slash the unemployment rate in half by empowering the private sector to create half a million new jobs, they stop spending and borrowing beyond their means, they prioritize what matters most, like public education. They turn a $2.5 billion deficit into a half billion-dollar surplus. They pay back a $2.7 billion unemployment insurance debt to the federal government. They dramatically cut taxes and move their state’s tax climate from 44th to 11th best in the nation because they believe citizens and job creators are better stewards of their own money than politicians. They invest generously in the state’s depleted rainy day fund, so they will be well prepared for recessions or natural disasters.
“They tackle the affordability of college. They guarantee no tuition increases during a student’s four years at state universities and cut the cost of tuition to just $500 per semester at three campuses, because they understand a college degree gives people the freedom to pursue their dreams. They put students first in public schools. And after years of teacher pay freezes and furloughs, they raise average teacher pay by more than fifteen percent in just three years. They expand public charter schools, create new education grants for children with learning disabilities and provide opportunity scholarships for low-income families, giving parents new freedom to choose schools that best fit the needs of their children. And they develop a Read to Achieve Program to improve student literacy. Because they know a society that fails to teach a child how to read by the end of 3rd grade fails to give that child the most important tool for success. And the state’s reading scores and graduation rates rise.”
Berger paused and asked that those listening ponder those achievements, and that Republicans in the legislature made promises to the people of the state to fight for those accomplishments.
“What would you think about a group of elected officials who kept those promises,” he said. “Because in the last six years, that is exactly what House and Senate Republicans have accomplished in our state. If anyone but Republicans had accomplished all of this, the press would herald North Carolina as a national success story. Instead, the institutions of the Left – the press, the Democratic Party, and liberal special interests – have ginned up great controversy and false outrage. They organized vulgar rallies and protests. They disrupt public meetings. They attempt to sabotage our state’s economy and put regular North Carolinians out of business.
“They call Republicans ignorant, dishonest, immoral, racist, bigoted, anti-women, anti-voter, anti-education, even treasonous. They call their neighbors who vote conservatives into office stupid, uninformed, dupes, and deplorables. Tonight we heard the Left’s new champion, [Gov.] Roy Cooper, push their vision for the future of North Carolina. Except it is not a vision for the future of North Carolina at all, it’s a mirage. It’s merely a retreat to our troubled past.”
Berger said that the press will undoubtedly praise Cooper’s goals as a return to a golden age, but in reality it is a step back to out-of-control spending backed by high taxes and increased unemployment rates.
“Across the state, Republican legislators received hundreds of thousands more votes than their Democratic opponents,” he said. “Yet Roy Cooper, who squeaked into office by a mere ten thousand votes, has treated his election as a mandate to fight Republicans rather than an opportunity to work together. Instead of seeking middle ground, he’s sued to block commonsense, popular reforms like Voter ID, and laws he doesn’t like, he simply ignores.
Berger pointed to a failed HB2 repeal bill that fell apart at the end of the year saying that Cooper has worked against compromise deals though he talks about compromising with the Legislature.
“Gov. Cooper talks often of compromise, but works behind the scenes to kill real compromises,” he said. “Like he did in December, when he ordered Senate Democrats to vote against a repeal of House Bill 2. And like he did earlier this month when he slammed the door on a bipartisan state House proposal to repeal House Bill 2 supported by our state’s business community.”
Rumors circulated that Cooper, in concert with Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, worked to kill the compromise behind closed doors while lobbying for a deal publicly.
But Berger did not slam the door on cooperation with Cooper while delivering the Republican response.
“Where there is opportunity to work with Gov. Cooper, we will be the first to extend a hand,” he said. “But we need, and the voters expect, the governor to reciprocate.”
Berger closed with a statement that makes clear two things, Republicans are happy with the direction that things have moved in the state since taking power six years ago, and they don’t intend to let things back-slide any time soon.
“In closing, know that Speaker Tim Moore and I, together with House and Senate Republicans won’t allow North Carolina to move backwards,” he said. “We will continue to trust you, not government, to make the best choices for your family. And we will continue to be guided by the principle, ‘that government is best which governs least.’”