On March 8, the General Assembly adjourned from the scheduled 2014 General Assembly without any consensus on the biennial budget. Within hours, Governor McAuliffe called for a Special Session of the General Assembly to convene on Monday, March 24 to address the matter of not having a spending plan for FY 2015 and 2016. Early that morning Governor McAuliffe announced his amendments to the budget previously proposed by outgoing Governor McDonnell. The impasse centers on providing access to health care for hard working Virginians that fall into the coverage gap.
Hundreds of thousands of Virginians stand to benefit by accepting Virginia’s portion of federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid. As a result of accepting this federal money there will be an additional $125 million General Fund revenue available in the next 18 months that can be redirected toward critical spending in Virginia. If we do nothing, Virginians pay twice – with their state income tax dollars that are currently used for indigent care as well as their federal taxes left behind that could be used for the same purpose. Four major objectives found in the new initiative include:
• Provide $100 million reserve for future costs associated with Medicaid expansion
• Provide $76 million revenue reserve (if not needed) to be used to for payment to VRS
• Provide for a 2% raise for state supported positions effective in the spring of 2015
• Provide $17 million to assist localities with their obligation to the Line of Duty Fund
In all, there were over 100 proposed amendments. I’d like to point out a few that I believe you can agree are priority spending items. In the area of public education there would be increased funding for teacher pay raises; extended school year programs; adjustment of Pre-K funding to hold harmless available local slots; as well as increased aid to local libraries.
Additional highlights in the area of health and human services focused on Mental Health Reform. Funding for additional positions at Central Office for temporary detention bed search; funding for establishing the acute psychiatric bed registry; increasing the number of crisis intervention drop off centers; increasing the number of temporary detention beds at state facilities. With the use of federal money (sent across the Potomac from Virginia’s hard working taxpayers) funds would also be redirected to increase funding for brain injury services; restoring funds for Centers for Independent Living as well as funding for long term employment support services.
Within hours of its introduction HB/SB 5003, the House of Delegates rejected Governor McAuliffe’s proposal. There was virtually no debate on the merits of this budget bill. The House (with its 69 seat majority) did manage to push its new proposal (HB5001) through like greased lightening. The Senate on the other hand has taken the past two weeks to conduct Town Halls and held a public hearing with open testimony on April 1. Despite these efforts, the impasse continues.
Bear in mind the Commonwealth’s business year begins on July 1 and closes on June 30 each year. At the same time, many of our localities are building their budgets as well. In the absence of a state budget, the localities face big challenges in planning for their school years, salaries for state supported law enforcement, community services etc.
During the past several months I have shared with you many thoughts and facts on the merits of expanding Medicaid in Virginia. I know of no successful business that refuses to accept revenue to produce a better, more cost efficient product and/or service. In this case, that service is providing health care to hundreds of thousands of hard working Virginians caught in the coverage gap, including Veterans and their families. Additionally, it is projected some 30,000 new jobs will be created in health related fields. So why does the HOD continue to dig in their heels to the tune of $5 million a day? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the $2 billion question that the business community, the hospitals serving our low income earners in their emergency rooms and nearly every editorial board in the Commonwealth continues to ask.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]