Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Gov. Roy Cooper told the members of the General Assembly — and residents across the state who watched on TV Monday evening — that “the state of our state is determined.”
Good line. We hope it accurately reflects what those lawmakers are prepared to do in this session.
Rather than propose a to-do list of new initiatives, Cooper stuck to some longstanding themes that have been around for years but were held at bay by a powerful Republican majority in the House and Senate that wielded enough votes to block any of Cooper’s plans they chose, with the certainty that comes with the ability to override any veto.
Losses in the November election took away that weaponry. Republicans still own a majority, but not an automatic override. At least some negotiating with Democrats will be needed in this session. But that doesn’t mean the governor gets to call many of the shots.
Still, Cooper’s big push Monday evening was for initiatives that should have been complete by now: better funding for public education, expansion of Medicaid, improved broadband access in rural areas and stepped-up aid for victims of Hurricane Florence. All those things should have bipartisan support.
And in fact, that’s beginning to happen. That includes:
• Both the House and Senate have proposals from GOP leadership to sharply expand funding for school construction across the state. They differ in approach — the House would do it through a bond package and the Senate would divert existing revenue — but there appears to be broad support for big spending to upgrade the state’s aging school buildings.
• For the first time since the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, there is Republican support, at least in the House, for expanding Medicaid, which the ACA underwrites almost completely in the initial years and subsidizes heavily over the long term. Independent experts say an expanded Medicaid program that provides health care to the state’s “working poor” would create tens of thousands of new jobs in the health care industry, pump billions of dollars into the economy and dramatically improve health outcomes for the state’s residents.
• Lawmakers from both parties are also pushing legislation to expand high-speed internet service in rural areas. Harnett County Rep. David Lewis, a key leader in the House, wants to let government build fiber-optic networks and then lease the lines to internet service providers. Until now, the state has believed the private sector would make that investment. It hasn’t happened. This change in thinking could spur sweeping expansion of internet access, which is the key to bringing economic development to the state’s mostly poor rural counties.
• And nobody’s likely to vote against plans to improve the way the state gets recovery assistance to the people affected by the extreme weather we saw in hurricanes Matthew and Florence. If Cooper is right and this is our “new normal,” we’ve got to develop people, plans and procedures to get aid to victims fast.
We hope that the state of our state really is determined, because there’s some heavy lifting to be done.