I was planning to be driving to Richmond this morning for the next House floor session to pass a two-year budget for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Instead, I am writing about what didn’t happen yesterday in the Senate. For at least another week, Virginia will remain without a budget.
This impasse reminds me of my first session in 2006 when Republicans in the House and Senate deadlocked on a budget until June 28, the very last minute before the end of the fiscal year. That year, the prospects of a government shutdown were real; now, we have a different dynamic. The 2019-2020 budget legislation has been bottled up by the Senate’s Republican leadership, which is preventing it from getting to the Senate floor.
Here are critical things that you need to know:
- The House of Delegates passed our original proposed budget back in late February. It included robust investments in K-12 education, teacher and state employee raises, increased money for mental health, and Medicaid Expansion to assist between 300,000 – 400,000 Virginians obtain access to health insurance. Under this bipartisan budget (supported by 49 Democrats and 19 Republicans), Virginia would gain access to approximately $400 million in federal monies to fund Medicaid expansion and provide the services which our citizens desire and deserve.
- The Senate and House were deadlocked at the end of the General Assembly Session because the Senate budget was not as robust as the House budget, primarily because Senate leadership objected to Medicaid expansion.
- The House returned in April when Governor Northam called us into special session, and, on April 17, passed another robust budget that went to the Senate for action.
- Since that time, Senate Republican leaders, especially those who sit on the Senate Finance Committee, have prevented a budget from getting to the Senate floor.
- Two Republican Senators, Emmett Hanger of Augusta and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, have stated their desire to pass a budget with Medicaid Expansion, but their efforts have been rebuffed by Senate leadership.
- Senator Hanger recently proposed a series of amendments to the House budget that actually improve it. These include: larger pay increases for public employees, including a 3 percent raise for teachers, depending on next year’s revenues; more money in the Rainy-Day Reserve Fund, thereby enhancing our Triple-A Bond Rating; increased spending for community mental health services; increased lottery revenues going directly to school divisions; more monies for the Virginia Preschool Initiative; and increased funding for economic development and job creation initiatives.
- The House budget, with the amendments proposed by Senator Hanger, is perhaps the best budget that I have seen in my time at the General Assembly. If the budget comes to the House with these good amendments, I will enthusiastically support it.
- The only reason that the Senate’s Republican leadership is rejecting the budget and its amendments is because they do not support the expansion of Medicaid.
- Under expansion, the federal government picks up more than 90 cents of every dollar that is spent on the expansion population and replaces money for indigent care and mental health care services that Virginia has been supporting with state funds. This gives us much greater flexibility in how we use state dollars to assist our citizens.
It is tremendously disappointing that Senate Republican leaders continue to prevent passage of a budget that our localities need to plan for their next fiscal year, especially when it provides additional funding for education, mental health, and to insure so many of our friends and neighbors. At this point, the Senate is scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday, after which the House will hopefully be called back into session next week to vote on a budget. If the Senate Finance Committee does not send a budget to the Senate floor, there are various procedural maneuvers that can be taken to force a budget onto the Senate floor for consideration. House Democrats are looking forward to the end of a five-year struggle to enact Medicaid expansion, and to bringing our federal tax dollars back to Virginia to help those in need and to help us fund other budgetary priorities.