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Budget goes to governor
GOP: Medicaid removal was needed for passage

Sunday, June 15, 2014

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Local Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly said Friday that it was necessary to remove Medicaid expansion from the state budget to advance the spending plan.

Now, they are waiting on Gov. Terry McAuliffe to sign the proposed spending plan that was approved Thursday.

The Senate voted to approve the two-year budget late Thursday night after adopting an amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, which removed wording from the budget that could have allowed McAuliffe to expand Medicaid by executive order without legislative approval.

Stanley’s amendment was approved first by a party-line 20-19 margin. The Senate then passed the budget by a 21-18 vote. The House of Delegates approved the budget 69-31.

Two Democrats, Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac, and Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, voted for the budget, though Lewis later said his vote was a mistake, according to The Associated Press.

After the budget was approved, McAuliffe vowed to “evaluate it carefully and take the actions that I deem necessary,” according to the AP, but added, “this fight is far from over.”

Stanley said removing Medicaid from the discussion took precedence over expanding Medicaid to an estimated more than 400,000 Virginians — he said that number would have been closer to 275,000 — saying that the state simply needed to get its fiscal house in order for the next two years.

“We were at a budget stalemate,” he said, and due to the combination of a $1.6 billion budget shortfall over two years and the prospect of costs incurred by the state with a Medicaid expansion, “we were not in a position as a state to carry on this discussion of Medicaid after July 1.

“If we didn’t craft this budget (by June 30), we wouldn’t have been able to use the rainy-day fund,” Stanley added.

The state can make up about half of the $1.6 billion differential from its savings, he said. The rest will have to be made up through budget cuts. For that reason, Stanley said, the Medicaid discussion “will be for a another day. ... I don’t think with the problems we’re having we can afford to” continue to debate Medicaid.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, called Stanley’s amendment blocking McAuliffe from expanding Medicaid without the General Assembly “a good idea,” and added that the Republicans’ new 20-19 Senate majority should affect McAuliffe’s decisions on the budget.

“I think a lot of things have changed for him. He’s just six months into his term,” Marshall said. “He’s got three and a half years left, (and) he needs to understand that we have to work together.”

Most of the cuts in the budget came from increased spending that had been proposed in earlier versions of the budget, essentially keeping funding for most programs at or near current levels, the AP reported. Planned new spending for higher education was cut by $184 million. Public schools took a $166 million hit, including a proposed 2 percent pay raise for teachers, Stanley said.

Del. Charles Poindexter, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said keeping teacher pay level was necessary, if undesirable.

“I hated to see that, since it came out of my subcommittee,” he said. “We worked hard to get those raises in.”

Poindexter was relieved that with an approved spending plan, local governments can move forward with their budgets.

“All of us took hits,” he said. “Doing it this way, (cuts were) level across the board.”

Poindexter also noted that McAuliffe will report on the state’s income early next year, which could help the state recover some of the funds that were cut.

“We’ll have to see where the revenue is in January and see if we can restore it,” he added.

Marshall said the protracted budget battle could have been avoided.

“The process was pretty distasteful,” he said. “We should have done this back in March, not on June 12th.

“If we had done this when we wanted to, so many teachers would not have anxiety about whether they were going to get paid this year,” he added.

Stanley said that about $290,000 in proposed funds for new employees at the New College Institute was “in my opinion cut drastically. I want to find that (money) somewhere in the future.”

“We also cut judgeships we needed badly,” he said.

Health and human resources spending was trimmed by $80 million, according to the AP. However, legislators retained $50 million in additional spending for mental health, which became a priority after state Sen. Creigh Deeds was wounded by his son, who then committed suicide, hours after being released from an emergency custody order.

Despite the bickering over Medicaid, Poindexter said a fiscal plan had to be made now before discussion over the entitlement expansion could continue.

“I think cooler heads prevailed in the Senate,” he said. “I think everybody knew it was time to act, because if you go ahead with ... new spending,” it’s better to make difficult budget cuts now rather than “bellying up to the bar and doing something later.”


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