Determined. That’s the word Gov. Roy Cooper used to describe the state of North Carolina. The speech highlighted much of what is good about North Carolina as well as the challenges we face. Still the speech lacked bold declarative statements (“We WILL do this”) or inspiring rhetoric. Perhaps the new political reality of divided government is the reason why the governor’s tone and demeanor could not be accurately described as determined.
Speeches like the State of the State provide the governor the opportunity to lay out his vision for North Carolina. And that’s what he did. The governor talked about major challenges facing our state; the need for jobs, helping middle class families, improving access to education and health care. Instead of offering solutions that improve our schools, encourage freedom and opportunity and strengthen our economy, the governor painted a disappointing vision of a big government Progressive who believes the government must manage the economy and that government and more money are the answers to every problem. He offers North Carolinians a vision of more government and less freedom.
“Public education is our most important job as a state. We must do better”
Higher Teacher Pay. While it is not unimportant, some facts are relevant to the ongoing discussion over teacher pay in North Carolina. First, teachers have received pay raises for five consecutive years. The average teacher salary in North Carolina is $51,200, which does not account for the value of the benefit package. The budget for K-12 education has increased every year that Republicans have had majorities in the legislature. The obsession with teacher pays obscures the real problem: the teacher salary schedule. The salary schedule prevents schools from paying teachers based on their performance. Instead of tying pay to performance, pay is tied largely to time on the job. Such systems disincentive excellence. Throwing more money at a system that needs to be overhauled doesn’t solve the problem. Principals and school districts need greater flexibility to set salaries and encourage excellence.
Expand Teaching Fellows Program. Gov. Cooper recommends the state pay for college, if graduates will teach for four years in the Teaching Fellows Program. Is this really the best option to meet our need for teachers? North Carolina has expanded alternative certification programs in recent years to help address questions of teacher supply. In addition, enrollment numbers from schools of education in the state signal an uptick. Let’s not forget the Teaching Fellows Program was discontinued for a variety of reasons. Chief among them there was a perception that NCAE had undue influence over the program. In addition, graduates in some fields had difficulty finding jobs. What evidence is there to show these problems have been corrected?
K-12 School Construction Bond. According to North Carolina’s state Constitution, counties or municipal school districts are responsible to provide for the facility costs of the public schools. Declining populations and shrinking tax bases have made financing school capital costs particularly challenging in rural areas of North Carolina. Most everyone acknowledges our schools need to be rebuilt and renovated. The real question is how best to do it. Gov. Cooper favors a school bond to help provide money for local school districts. The problem with a school bond is that most of the money goes to larger districts and that the state would pay over $1 billion in interest. Increasingly of late, a higher percentage of funding has also been allotted for such things as technology. A bond only throws more money at the school facility problem. It fails to ensure that the areas of highest need will receive the money, or that money will get to the schools fast enough or that most importantly, schools with smaller tax bases will be able to meet their ongoing capital needs. Currently, schools can finance capital costs through bonds, use Education Lottery money, or money from the School Capital Building Fund or other sources. None of these seem to work very well or help the schools most in need. A school bond fails to address any of the issues. About all a bond will ensure is that several years from now we’ll be back for another bond.
Free Community College Tuition. This is another program that sounds good, until you take a closer look. Although he didn’t reveal details, if Cooper’s plan is like the one he introduced two years ago, it will be used to meet a student’s remaining financial need, after they have already applied for federal and institutional financial aid. Yes, North Carolina needs more educated workers. However, the fact is most low-income students who attend community college can already receive enough in grants and scholarships to significantly reduce the cost of education. There are already numerous programs designed to reduce the cost of community college and increase completion rates. Oftentimes the reasons for students dropping out of community college aren’t financially related but concern life event such as the birth of a child, caring for a parent or the like. Lastly, we need to remember, that free community college tuition does nothing to solve the real problem: ever-rising college costs.
“We must be determined to build an economy that works for everyone”
Middle Class Families. Gov. Cooper’s opposition to lower taxes and support for higher government spending has hurt middle class families. His ongoing support for higher corporate taxes (he pledged to make school funding a priority over corporate tax breaks) makes North Carolina less attractive for business investment and job growth. Multiple studies show the corporate income tax to be the most harmful to economic growth. We must understand the real impact of higher taxes is not felt on the corporation or executives but is ultimately passed on to the workers and families in the form of lost jobs and family hardship.
Tax Incentives. During his speech Gov. Cooper touted the incentives he has offered to companies and the success North Carolina has had in luring companies to locate here. The Governor rails against corporate tax cuts while favoring corporate welfare. He mentions incentives. However, he didn’t mention the tax breaks and cozy relationships such deals create. The state-business courtship is fertile ground for corporate cronyism and creates an uneven playing field.
40,000 jobs. Cooper highlighted the number of new jobs in the last two years. The truth is, these jobs are largely products of favorable business conditions created from state tax reform passed in 2013 and the federal tax cuts of 2017. Had Cooper had his way with tax policy and larger state budgets – which he favored – it’s unlikely job creation would have been as robust.
“Too many North Carolinians don’t have health insurance”
Expand Medicaid. Gov. Cooper’s solution to a lack of health insurance coverage is to expand costly government health insurance, add primarily able-bodied individuals to the welfare rolls and jeopardize the care of truly needy individuals. Cooper’s proposal to expand Medicaid is based on false claims, including:
Expansion helps the uninsured. Supporters of expansion say it would provide coverage to those who would otherwise lack health insurance. However, expansion ignores those who currently have access to health insurance through federal subsidies would have to give up their private health insurance and be forced onto Medicaid. Earlier estimates of an uninsured population of 500,000 North Carolinians, have suggested that as many as half of those who would be covered under Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, are eligible for private insurance, paid largely through federal subsidies.
Expansion will provide coverage to the poor. The governor says we need to provide coverage to help the poor. One in five North Carolinians are already on Medicaid. Adding half a million new Medicaid enrollees – almost 80 percent of which are able-bodied childless adults – would flood an already overcrowded system. There are around 1,300 fewer doctors accepting Medicaid patients than in 2003, while more than a million enrollees have been added to the Medicaid rolls in that time. Truly needy like low-income parents, children, pregnant women and the elderly would have to compete for limited healthcare services with able-bodied adults. Coverage does not equal access to care.
Expansion creates jobs. Gov. Cooper says over the next ten years Medicaid expansion will create 40,000 new jobs. This strategy relies on keeping poor people in poverty, and thus keeping the Medicaid rolls at a high level. Almost 78 percent of those eligible for Medicaid under expansion are able-bodied adults. Why should we encourage welfare and discourage work?
Missing out on Federal Money. Cooper claims North Carolina should expand Medicaid, since the state is already helping to pay for the program in other states. This is not true. No federal money is designated for Medicaid expansion. If North Carolina chooses to expand Medicaid, the federal money it uses to pay for the program is added to the nation’s $22.5 trillion debt. In essence, our children and grandchildren are the ones who pay the costs of Medicaid expansion.
Cooper’s Solutions Are Rooted in a Faulty Diagnosis. High healthcare costs are the result of restrictive government policies such as Obamacare, Certificate of Need laws, and regulations that restrict the type of insurance and care that can be offered. Free market reforms like repealing CON laws, allowing families flexibility in purchasing health insurance and broadening scope of practice laws are sensible and financially responsible steps to help improve access to healthcare.
Gov. Cooper’s plans for addressing the state’s major challenges involve more government expansion and inevitably higher taxes. Such policies only work to limit individual freedom and opportunity. For the past eight years, conservative majorities and leadership in the General Assembly have stood as an alternative to such failed policies. Lower taxes, limited government and controlled state spending have helped to lay the foundations of economic success and expanded opportunity for all North Carolinians. Gov. Cooper’s plans threaten that success.