RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory praised fellow Republican lawmakers Wednesday night during his second State of the State address for their partnership the past two years, saying that has led to lower unemployment and tax rates and accelerated debt repayment for jobless benefits.
"I'm proud to report that the state of North Carolina has come back even stronger today," McCrory told a joint session of the House and Senate within the Legislative Building. "Its people are resilient and our future is bright."
But he said there's more work to do in the second half of his gubernatorial term that began in 2013, particularly with extending the recent prosperity many state residents haven't yet experienced.
"My vision for North Carolina is to have the best of everything," McCrory said at the close of a 1 hour, 20 minute address televised statewide.
McCrory laid out a price tag on transportation and government building infrastructure bonds he wants. McCrory re-affirmed his promise to work to raise entry-level teacher pay to $35,000 this fall. And he said he wants to create two new Cabinet-level departments.
But he provided little meat around the bones of two contentious issues — economic incentives and Medicaid expansion.
Here are some highlights and what other politicians are saying about the address.
Debt request: The governor said he'll ask the legislature to approve a $1.2 billion bond for transportation projects that have cleared environmental hurdles but haven't quite risen above the threshold to gain traditional road-building funds. He also said he'll propose $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion in bonds for broader infrastructure needs.
"We can no longer afford this culture of neglect and apathy," he said, adding "we have structures all over the state that are a blight to North Carolina's main streets."
It wasn't immediately clear whether one or both of the packages would need approval in a statewide referendum.
More on the economy: McCrory asked lawmakers in coming weeks to approve his "NC Competes" job recruitment proposal to help his administration compete effectively with other states seeking to land big companies.
His office said it would encourage manufacturing, attract investment and help universities attract new capital for their next big ideas. But he didn't spell out exactly what he would be asking lawmakers to approve, save for reviving a tax credit for entities that renovate historic buildings.
Medicaid changes: The governor re-asserted his support for his "Healthy North Carolina" Medicaid overhaul plan in which state hospital and doctor networks could benefit financially from healthy enrollees and contained costs. The House and Senate tried last summer to reach a deal, but remain at odds over whether out-of-state managed-care companies also could participate.
McCrory was guarded about whether he would ask them to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of the working poor through President Barack Obama's health care law.
The governor said he's exploring "North Carolina-based options" to cover more of the uninsured. "If we bring a proposal" to legislators, he added, "it must protect North Carolina taxpayers" and require "personal and financial responsibility" by those covered.
New departments: McCrory said he wants a new Department of Veterans Affairs in addition to the Department of Information Technology his administration already requested. The veterans affairs' agency would help veterans find employment and health care and fight to keep bases open during future rounds of closings nationwide.
Workers’ injuries: The governor said workers' compensation costs within state government — $896 million over six years — are too high. He said they can be controlled partly by weeding out abuse or fraud, contending that accounts for about 40 percent of the costs.
Lawmakers respond: Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the chamber's Republicans looked forward to reviewing more plan details from McCrory.
In the Democrats' official response, also aired on TV, House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said the state's economic recovery McCrory keeps talking about has fallen short and benefited mostly the wealthy.
"Gov. McCrory often brags about an economic comeback. But when it comes to the middle class, all we've seen is rhetoric," Hall said.
On the public schools, Hall said McCrory "is failing our students" because teachers remain poorly paid on average and classroom spending is near the bottom compared to other states.
Special guests: McCrory got emotional when he introduced Trooper Michael Potts, sitting in the House gallery. Potts was severely wounded during a traffic stop on the day of McCrory's first State of the State address in February 2013.
McCrory went to the hospital after the speech, and has since become friends with the trooper and his family. Potts has now returned to work.