Commentary: Budget Battle in Virginia

Commentary: Budget Battle in Virginia

The budget is the final piece of significant legislation remaining for the General Assembly to come to an agreement on. The stakes this year are especially high for Virginians, because the House of Delegates finally expanded Medicaid to include nearly 400,000 hard-working uninsured Virginians. I proudly voted for the House budget, but our work is not yet finished.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe introduced his final budget to the General Assembly in 2017, and both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have introduced amended versions of it in their respective chambers. There is a $600 million gap between the Senate budget and the House budget. The Senate failed to include Medicaid expansion in its budget, forcing it to adopt a budget that cuts traditional government services down to the bone.

The House budget would let the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services apply for immediate Medicaid expansion while also directing it to request a special waiver that will allow certain Medicaid recipients to receive workforce training, with the intention that able-bodied recipients may then obtain employment or provide community service. Already, the feds have approved these special waivers for Kentucky, Indiana and just this week, Arkansas.

The Virginia hospital industry has conditionally agreed to foot the entire cost of Medicaid expansion to save taxpayers money, this works out to 10 percent of the cost. The mechanism, a “provider assessment,” would be treated as a special tax on hospital providers.

There is also a “kill-clause” in the program, that would end our expanded Medicaid program if the Federal government ever reneges on this life saving, popular assistance program.

The Senate budget is draconian in its cuts. It fails to raise salaries for State employees or teachers; it eliminates funding to ensure every elementary school has a full-time principal; reduces school divisions’ flexibility to fund programs by reducing the funds appropriated from the Lottery; it contains substantially less money for higher education and reduces need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduate students by $23 million; and it fails to include funding for mental health initiatives so critical to our neighbors.

There is still a significant amount of work yet to do, and we are bracing for the possibility of staying in Richmond for an extra week. The ball is now in the Senate’s court. Every single one of the House members appointed as budget conferees voted for Medicaid expansion, while only half of the appointed Senate budget conferees have indicated support for the measure. I am hopeful that this is the year that Medicaid expansion comes to fruition. When a family of three making just $11,000 a year makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid in Virginia we know that the time has come to finally do the right thing.