By Becki Gray
Gov. Roy Cooper owns this. He owns the coronavirus response and everything that will follow.
Cooper has refused to confer with the Council of State, vetoed the General Assembly’s efforts to get businesses safely opened and people back to work, relied solely on his administration’s data and science, blamed President Trump and the republican General Assembly when convenient, and taken credit when it fit his political agenda. His decisions over the past few months will define his leadership and leave North Carolina with lasting marks. North Carolina will be worse off if he continues to get his way without a check from the General Assembly or the judicial branch.
He shut the state down in March. Unemployment soared, businesses closed, every student was homeschooled, people died alone in hospitals, North Carolinians were terrified to leave their homes.
Flatten the curve, he told us. Well, we’ve flattened the curve. Yet businesses remain restricted or closed altogether, thousands of people are still unemployed, education at all levels is delivered over the internet and people are still scared. With Cooper’s opening plan stuck on pause with no end in sight, North Carolinians are increasingly frustrated and angry. The goal posts keep moving.
Between those goal posts is a post-COVID plan that should worry every North Carolinian.
Caving to pressure from the N.C. Association of Educators, Cooper took in-person instruction off the table in opening schools this year, offering a false choice of virtual-only instruction after. From the roll out, to the administration, to the quality and consistency of the lessons, it’s been a disaster. Technology, devices, broadband connection, enrollment counts, food and services for special needs have been a mess. He had all summer to get it right, and he failed. Teachers are doing their best. Parents, who counted on school for child care, are struggling. Students may well be facing a lost year of learning. Low-income kids, the ones we most worry about, are also the most disadvantaged.
How have parents responded to Cooper’s COVID-19 school plan? Homeschooling registrations crashed the website for several days. Private schools, flooded with applications, have waiting lists. Low-income and special-needs students with opportunity scholarships are grateful. The state’s two virtual charter schools have almost 10,000 kids on their waiting list, but Cooper has refused to expand this option.
If we’ve learned anything through the school debacle, it’s that kids learn differently. But Cooper has hunkered down with the NCAE on offering only one choice — traditional public schools. Cooper is public enemy No. 1 against school choice. He wants to defund opportunity scholarships for poor kids to attend a private school that meets their needs. He’s even filed a lawsuit to eliminate the program. He thinks charter schools should be limited in number and ability to grow. Cooper has chosen the education system over educating kids. A vaccine won’t change his mission to dismantle school choice.
It’s not just Cooper’s education response that’s worrisome. Health care may look different post-COVID-19. On the one hand, we’ve implemented measures to lower costs, increase access and ensure quality of care. Telemedicine can be an effective tool; waiving certificate-of-need restrictions enable providers to treat where and how it’s needed, and data and cost transparency lead to informed decisions. Fast-tracked innovation has led to medicine and treatments to make people less sick and heal faster. More patient driven and fewer government-controlled measures will better meet post-COVID-19 health care needs.
Still, Cooper continues his insistence for expansion of Medicaid to 700,000 mostly working age, childless, able-bodied adults. Our current Medicaid program already covers 20% of our population, serving poor children and pregnant women, the aged and disabled. Instead of ensuring the program meets the needs of those who need it, Cooper’s expansion plan would cost an additional $6 billion in the first two years. A better plan? Get people back to work, able to provide for themselves and their families, open the health insurance market and let people buy the plan that works best for themselves and their families, rather than be stuck with a one-size fits all government issued plan.
Getting people back to work is the key to a COVID recovery. A healthy recovery depends on pro-growth economic policies. Over the past 10 years, North Carolina has implemented pro-growth policies, less spending, lower taxes, reasonable regulations, smart investments, and savings that resulted in a strong, robust economy pre-COVID. Cooper will take us backward. Higher energy costs, expanded entitlement programs, and higher taxes are burdens on families and businesses struggling to get back on their feet.
In the past few weeks, the governor proposed a budget, four months late and full of unrealistic and irresponsible spending. Given his way, he would increase state spending nearly $1 billion, spend down all of the carry over money from last year, expand Medicaid to 700,000 able-bodied, childless working-age adults to the tune of $4 billion annually, take funding from a voucher program that’s a lifeline for poor families, and ask North Carolina taxpayers to take on $5.3 billion in additional debt. He proposes extending the time and the benefit for the thousands of people on unemployment, a situation they find themselves in through no fault of their own but that’s directly related to Cooper’s shutdown of the economy.
And, he wants to do it by raiding a trust fund that’s finally stable and sustainable. It’s a formula for increased taxes, a stranglehold on a sputtering economy that he’s shut down for months. It’s as if he created an economic nightmare on the one hand and now proposes big-ticket spending to fix the problem he created, with money from struggling, hard working North Carolina families. The best thing the governor can do is get out of the way, let people get back to work safely and provide for themselves and their families without depending on gubernatorial whims of who’s essential and who’s not, who’s deserving and who’s not.
So where will we go as we emerge from the COVID-19 fog? If Cooper has his way, it will be one-size-fits-all education, government issued health care, more spending, more debt and a stranglehold on the state’s economy when people need and want to work. Cooper’s foot soldiers in the General Assembly will sustain his vetoes, his allies on the courts will uphold his dangerous policies. What’s it going to be N.C.?
Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.