After seven hours of wrangling and a series of very close votes, the General Assembly passed and sent to the Governor a two-year budget. As has been the case for most of the session, the debates surrounding the budget were about Medicaid expansion and the extent to which conservative Republicans in the House would be able to threaten moderate Republican Senators into the passing a budget with language prohibiting any expansion in the near future.
When we arrived in Richmond on Thursday afternoon, we had been led to believe that the Senate would consider no further amendments to the proposed budget, which had been dramatically scaled back because of a $1.5 billion shortfall in tax revenues. That agreement quickly fell apart, however, under pressure from Tea Party Republicans in the House who threatened their counterparts in the Senate that they would reject the budget if their anti-Medicaid language amendment was not approved. By late evening, moderate Republicans in the Senate had capitulated and the budget, which included a further prohibition against Medicaid expansion, was adopted on a largely party line vote. This would not likely have happened had not Senator Phillip Puckett resigned his seat abruptly last week, handing Republicans a 20/19 majority in the Senate. On Thursday, I called for an investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding this resignation, including an exploration of the extent to which he was offered a position with the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission as an inducement for resigning his seat. You can read the speech I gave on the House floor here.
While I was not pleased with the original compromise budget, I initially planned to vote for it, largely because we needed a budget and I was concerned about how the failure to pass one might affect our Triple A bond rating. The Commonwealth’s financial situation had deteriorated over the last few months and we needed to have a budget so that our localities would have monies to fund the needs of their constituents. The Republicans’ efforts to prevent Medicaid expansion, however, changed all of that.
When the revised budget came to the House floor, I felt the need to oppose it for several reasons, not the least of which involved the language on the prohibition against Medicaid expansion. The budget plan eliminates pay raises that we had approved earlier for school teachers, college professors, and other state employees. While the money for schools reserved for educational “rebenchmarking” (i.e., inflation adjustments) remained, other discretionary K-12 spending was cut. Increases that we had previously approved for higher education were taken away. Monies for housing assistance were removed, as well as additional sums to create waiver slots to help those who are intellectually and developmentally disabled. Inflation adjustment for hospitals was stripped away. Monies previously approved for life sciences and research, as well as other economic development initiatives were also eliminated. While I understand how a revenue gap will prompt spending cuts, my view is that they did not need to be so draconian and that we could have found ways to enhance revenues by eliminating some of the tax preferences that are going to larger companies in Virginia. You can hear my argument here, but it fell on deaf ears.
At this point, the approved budget goes to the Governor, who has seven days within which to act. He could veto the budget, make certain line item amendments, or simply sign it. He has not yet indicated his position, but he will no doubt do that shortly.
As always, it is a pleasure representing you in the General Assembly and I hope that you will contact me with your views and comments about issues affecting the region and the Commonwealth.