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Votes

Commentary: Frustrating: No Medicaid, U.S. 1 Cut

— Last week was one of the most frustrating weeks in the General Assembly since my 2009 election.

First, on Sunday afternoon, we learned that Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett from Southwest Virginia had announced his resignation to be considered for a job on the Virginia Tobacco Commission and clear the way for a judgeship for his 33- year-old daughter. This effectively gave the Virginia State Senate a Republican majority (20-19).

On Monday, 21 senators signed a letter requiring the Senate reconvene and the Speaker called the House of Delegates back for a session on Thursday.

When we arrived in Richmond on Thursday, we got more disappointing news. Apparently, the state’s revenue projections for purposes of building the FY14-15 budget were off because of incorrect assumptions. The primary problem was that revenue collections were up last year because wealthy taxpayers recognized significant increased income from stock liquidations done in anticipation of increased capital gains tax rates. The budget experts did not consider this in preparing this year’s revenue projections.

Secondly, income growth in Virginia has continued to be flat in the wake of last fall’s federal government shutdown and reductions in federal spending due to the sequestration provisions passed two years ago. The bottom line is that our state budget was off by $1.6 billion.

The House Appropriations Chairman and new Senate Republican Finance Senate leader drafted several hundred amendments to cut the budget. The new budget includes a series of cuts including reducing nearly $200 million from higher education, $124 million from K-12 education (including millions for Fairfax County), eliminating a 2 percent pay raise for state employees, $142 million of cuts in healthcare and $8 million in cuts for affordable housing. It does not fully fund the need for judges in the state including needs in Fairfax County.

The budget also continues to fund some questionable priorities including $10 million for motion picture production tax credits and $400 million for a new General Assembly building.

Also, they cut the $4 million amendment Sen. Toddy Puller had secured to continue the U.S. 1 improvement process. If this holds, it will delay continued progress on improvements on U.S. 1 for at least 12 months at the conclusion of the current study.

Most importantly, the budget does not expand Medicaid as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. This will deny healthcare to 400,000 people statewide and about 7,000 people right here in the 44th District — in your community.

The legislature approved this “new” budget along party lines 69-31 in the House and 21-18 in the Senate. I voted “no.” I cannot support a budget that denies healthcare to thousands of families right here in our community at no cost to Virginia taxpayers, forgoes jobs and causes Virginians to subsidize healthcare in other states.

A meeting I attended this week vividly illustrates the effect on our community. On Monday, I met with the Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, Inc. They are preparing to open a full service clinic that will employee 100 people providing healthcare services to low-income customers on U.S. 1 right across the street from Beacon Mall. Their existing care is underwritten by federal grants. Medicaid expansion would have brought them approximately $900,000 per year of new funding and all of the new jobs that would come with that — 30,000 jobs statewide.

Expansion would also free up $180 million of Virginia taxpayer money per biennium to fund other priorities like secondary education.

Also, the Affordable Care Act included several new taxes which Virginians are already paying. Expanding Medicaid would ensure that Virginia’s federal taxpayer dollars return to Virginia instead of going to other states like New Jersey, Ohio or Arizona.

This week, Governor McAuliffe is trying to decide whether to sign the budget, veto it or do a line item veto. Stay tuned because the battle is not over yet. This week, I and approximately a dozen other legislators urged him to use a veto or a line item veto.

If you have any feedback for me, feel free to send me a note at scottsurovell@gmail.com. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.