Commentary: Virginia Budget Agreement within Reach

Commentary: Virginia Budget Agreement within Reach

It’s been 73 days since the General Assembly adjourned without a budget. As I write this Tuesday morning I am pleased to report that it appears that the General Assembly has come to a compromise on the budget that expands affordable healthcare to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and increases teacher pay by an additional 3 percent. By the time you read this I am very hopeful we will have passed this budget as I highlight in my column.

One of our next top priorities was to replenish our rainy day fund, which is necessary to meet our commitment to replenish our liquidity and secure our AAA bond rating. This budget more than doubles our cash reserves and would bring our revenue reserves to nearly $1 billion. We must eventually raise our reserves to $2 billion to satisfy credit rating agencies, which will be a priority over the coming fiscal years.

Our push to expand Medicaid services will improve health care for low-income Virginians and vulnerable populations in need of critical behavioral health and development services.

The budget compromise creates a “dual track” for Medicaid transformations by applying for a demonstration waiver. Within 45 days of the budget passing, Virginia will submit a State Plan Amendment application and a concept paper to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid via a section 1115 demonstration waiver. Within 180 days after the budget passing, Virginia will submit a completed 1115 waiver and application for reforms, assuming an effective date of Jan. 1, 2019.

Our state Medicaid plan will implement the Affordable Care Act expansion by covering all adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, an estimated 300,000 individuals. All newly eligible persons will be enrolled in managed care plans or employer-sponsored plans if cost effective. The basic plan covers all ACA essential health benefits and current Medicaid covered mental health and addiction recovery and treatment services. We will also tap a potential to access future supportive employment and supportive housing services for high-risk individuals. Finally, the state plan requires newly eligible adults with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty level to pay monthly premiums. These premiums are set on a sliding scale, not to exceed two percent of income, nor less than $1.

We compromised with Republicans on training, education and employment requirements. We will require able-bodied adults age 18 to 55 to participate in the Training, Education and Opportunity program with several reasonable exceptions to this policy. It would be too much to enumerate here, but I encourage interested readers to visit the state budget portal available at for more information.

Regarding education, the most significant action in the K-12 budget is the total cost of $481.1 million for the biennial re-benchmarking update increase over the current adopted budget. Adding to that, the amendment package provides a net increase of $166.3 million from all funding sources above the budget as introduced for public education over the biennium.

The next two largest spending amendments include $131.4 million for a 3 percent salary increase for all funded instructional and support positions starting July 1, and $91.5 million to increase the total Supplemental Lottery Per Pupil Amount and increases the total percentage of lottery dollars going direct to school divisions to 40 percent. So, if you purchase a lottery ticket 40 percent of the proceeds fund our schools.

In higher education, we provided $120.6 million in additional funding to higher education for base operations and increased degree production, financial aid enrollment incentives and initiatives over the biennium. A special thanks to neighboring Del. Mark Sickles (D-43), who secured $290,000 to Gunston Hall for its infrastructure.

We also included $124.7 million for across-the-board salary increases in FY 2020 and $52.7 million over the biennium for targeted salary actions for specific public safety personnel and direct care staff in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, representing a 2 percent pay increase for state employees.