We have one week to go in this General Assembly session, and the major issue left to resolve is the budget. In December 2017, Gov. McAuliffe introduced his last budget, and both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have been working on it since then. The House budget bill is dramatically different than the Senate’s budget, largely because the House is willing to expand healthcare coverage to thousands of Virginians by accepting federal Medicaid dollars. In the House budget, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) can apply immediately for expansion; DMAS is also directed to request a special waiver that will allow certain Medicaid recipients to receive workforce training, in hopes that able-bodied recipients may then obtain employment or provide community service. The Senate budget does not include the Medicaid expansion monies from the governor’s budget, with the result that the Senate had to cut more than $400 million from Gov. McAuliffe’s introduced budget.
The Senate’s budget is significantly deficient in the following ways:
- It does not include raises for State employees or teachers.
- It eliminates funding to ensure that every elementary school has a full-time principal beginning 2020.
- It reduces school divisions’ flexibility to fund programs, by reducing appropriations directed to them through the Lottery Fund.
- It contains substantially less money for higher education than the House budget, and reduces by $23 million funding for need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduate students.
- It does not include robust funding for many mental health initiatives so critical to our neighbors and our communities.
There are many other places where the Senate and House budgets diverge, as you can see in a side-by-side comparison produced by the Commonwealth Institute, an independent, Richmond-based think tank. View the budget comparison here:
There is a lot that will need to be done in order to get a budget by the General Assembly’s projected adjournment date of March 10, 2018. Since the budgets are now $600 million apart, it is possible that instead of adjourning, we will have to recess on March 10 instead and return later to pass a budget. I am optimistic that we will reach agreement, but it is largely in the hands of the Republican-controlled Senate; it is hard to believe that the House will back off on its now-bipartisan commitment to expand Medicaid, and there is no way the budget can approach balance with our priorities intact without the Senate coming to agree.
We have now compiled the results of the survey that we conducted during the first part of this year’s session, and appreciate all who took it.
The major conclusions are:
- The most important issue was healthcare (59% of you rated it as a top-3 issue for the General Assembly to address, and paid sick leave was the top item chosen to help working families).
- Helping people vote was very important as well: respondents overwhelming supported restoring voting rights to ex-felons, allowing voters over 65 years of age to vote absentee, and ensuring that citizens are automatically registered to vote when they receive a driver’s license.
- More than 85% believe that Virginia should establish a nonpartisan commission to draw electoral districts, as other states have done to reduce gerrymandering.
- Investing in education (from pre-K all the way through higher education) was a top priority for our area, with environmental protection also strongly favored.
- Charlottesville-area residents favor laws to support our working families by providing paid parental leave and increasing the minimum wage to $15 (or indexing it to the rate of inflation), as well as investing in public projects that create jobs such as road, transit and construction efforts.
From the survey feedback, I have focused on these priorities during this session, and will continue to keep these concerns in mind as I cast my remaining votes this year.
The impacts of the Parkland, Florida school shooting continue to reverberate in the General Assembly. You can view my recent gun safety speech immediately below:
Neither the House nor the Senate Republican leadership have shown much interest in discussing gun safety initiatives. Without them committing to do something, this issue will languish despite its urgency.
Remembering Heather Heyer
Finally, the resolution I sponsored memorializing the life of Heather Heyer passed the House last Friday. You can see my speech in support of the resolution, and my motion that the House adjourn that day in her honor and memory, here:
Visits in Charlottesville
We are a “citizen legislature.” That means members of the General Assembly spend most of the year in our home districts. I will be back in Charlottesville and available to meet with you any time after March 10, until the end of 2018. Please call my Charlottesville office after March 10 at (434) 220-1660 to schedule an appointment or to speak by phone.