RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged legislators on Monday night to keep fueling opportunities for the state's citizens to succeed through more monetary investments in K-12 education, mental health services and public safety.
"Our moment to build enduring prosperity is now. And I know that North Carolina is ready," Cooper said while delivering what's likely his final biennial State of the State address to a joint House-Senate session at the Legislative Building.
The state of the state, the governor added at the close of his 34-minute televised speech, is "bright and energized with the promise of tomorrow."
But Cooper - barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive four-year term in 2024 - also warned Republicans in charge of the General Assembly against passing measures that would further attempt to limit abortion access and restrict voting. He said they could slow the state's economic engine. He pointed to other proposals that would limit how teachers can instruct students about race and sexuality and gender identity.
"I challenge this General Assembly to keep us off the front lines of those culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs so that we can continue our successful bipartisan work," Cooper said. He referred to the economic fallout from a 2016 state law - later partially repealed - that limited which public bathrooms that transgender people could use.
While Cooper has successfully blocked other measures with his veto stamp over the past four years, Republican electoral gains in November put them only one seat shy of holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
"Use the public schools to build a brighter future, not to bully and marginalize LGBTQ students. Don't make teachers re-write history," Cooper said. "Keep the freedom to vote in reach for every eligible voter. Leave the decisions about reproductive health care to women and their doctors."
Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is widely expected to run to succeed Cooper next year, gave a recorded GOP response after Cooper's speech.
Cooper took some credit for the state's recent successes, pointing to his focus on developing the state into a locale for the clean energy economy, particularly with recent electric vehicle industry announcements. His administration also has benefitted from federal funds to boost child care, build high-speed internet in rural areas and renovate infrastructure. Flush state coffers have helped, too.
Cooper thanked GOP legislators for passing with him a 2021 carbon emissions reduction law. He also praised the Republican announcement last week of an agreement to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income adultsm after a decade of waiting. Still, Cooper pleaded with legislators to enact it now - rather than wait a few months later - to tap into more federal money for hospitals.
On education, Cooper said his two-year budget proposal expected later this month would fund the entire remedial education spending plan that a trial judge approved in 2021 and pitch "double-digit" percentage raises for teacher and principals.
The remedial plan was designed to comply with long-ago state Supreme Court rulings that found the state is falling short on giving children the "opportunity for a sound basic education." The legislature will approve the lawmakers' own budget to present to Cooper.
In November, the state Supreme Court affirmed state money could be transferred to agencies to carry out the remedial plan without express General Assembly approval. But a new version of the court - flipped from a Democratic majority to Republican - said Friday it would revisit the case known as "Leandro," named for an original lawsuit plaintiff.
In an audience that included Chief Justice Paul Newby and other justices sitting nearby, Cooper said the "court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of the children, because that's what really matters -- the children."
While Cooper said the "youth mental health crisis cannot be ignored," the governor also said he would propose a plan in the coming days "that makes historic investments in the whole-person health of every North Carolinian." He didn't provide details.
On law enforcement improvements, Cooper said resources are needed to recruit and retain more good officers, in part through better pay and training. But he also linked such support to keeping firearms out of the hands of children, criminals and those in danger of suicide.
"In the weeks to come, let's move forward to fight gun violence, not backward," Cooper said. While Republicans are backing legislation to boost the safe storage of guns, they've also been pushing to ease gun laws this year.
Cooper has said there's a goal of getting two million people into North Carolina's workforce by 2030. He warned last month at a forum that the state's labor participation rate is still lower than it was before the pandemic.
"What keeps you up at night is with all the jobs created, making sure we have the workforce to fill them," Cooper said at the forum.
Wake County Community is preparing students to immediately go from the classroom to the office.
Rachel Magee is enrolled in the biotech program. She's training with a specific company and planning to work here when she graduates in two months.
"It's honestly really exciting because it takes the guesswork out of searching," said Magee. "It's actually a little more hands than you would get at a four year, where you might just be doing some general training.""
There are about 50 different courses in the job training program. These programs are helping companies staff up quickly, either those that already have a footprint in North Carolina or others that are expanding in our region.
"This area is kind of a centerpiece for tech opportunity," said Wake Tech President Scott Ralls.
Apple is building a billion-dollar engineering hub down the road from the school in RTP.
Ralls met with company executives Monday about workforce needs.
"We're putting the hammer down on the accelerator and that's where propel comes from and a lot of different things we're going around workforce development, and I just think it's further encouragement. Further enthusiasm, more focused," he said.
There have been several high-profile job announcements during his tenure from Apple to Microsoft to Amazon coinciding with a population boom felt here in the Triangle.
A survey of community and business leaders across the state says demand is strong and they're optimistic it will remain that way.
"In aggregate, it tell us the economy remains stronger than people maybe think it is," Laura Ullrich told ABC11 last week. Ullrich is a senior regional economist at the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
'North Carolina is uniquely positioned.' Optimism on the state's economy remains strong
ABC11's Elaina Athans and The Associated Press contributed.