Earlier this week, negotiations surrounding the Virginia budget took a surprising turn. Triggered by the unexpected resignation of Democratic Senator Phillip Puckett, Republicans regained a majority in the Virginia Senate. Joined by one of their Democratic colleagues, all twenty of the Republicans wasted no time in calling the Senate back into session. Thanks to their quick action, both the House and the Senate will return to Richmond this Thursday, June 12, to finish working on a state budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. I anticipate the budget will pass with bipartisan support on Thursday night. Afterward, we will recess and await the Governor's amendments.
Although Senator Puckett's sudden resignation provided an impetus to restart budget negotiations, a number of factors were beginning to indicate impending action. Throughout the past several months, elected officials from dozens of Virginia localities repeatedly called on the General Assembly and the Governor to pass a timely budget. As the clock ticked down to the end of the fiscal year, localities and the Commonwealth became increasingly concerned about the possibility of losing Virginia's AAA bond rating. A downgraded bond rating would imperil Virginia's economy at a time when we can least afford such a complication. Because Virginia faces an unanticipated $1.5 billion budget shortfall, the legislature and Governor need to take quick action to pass a clean budget and access the rainy day fund.
With the sudden movement on the budget, questions arise regarding plans to mitigate the projected revenue shortfall. I will learn specifics on Thursday; however, at this time I believe we will level-fund most areas of the budget. We will be able to re-benchmark K-12 education, preserve our mental health investments, and keep our VRS repayment plan on track. Following Thursday's session, I will provide you with a more detailed update.
At the end of the day, I am not concerned with who "wins" politically. In this case, we avoided a state shutdown-an outcome that is a victory for all Virginians.
Medicaid expansion: what next?
You will likely recall that the budget impasse stemmed from a disagreement regarding Medicaid expansion. During recent months, I have steadfastly maintained that the Medicaid debate should be separated from the budget negotiations. As evidenced by reports from other states, Obamacare's Medicaid expansion poses many challenges. Expansion is a complicated and controversial matter, and I strongly believe that we should not use the Virginia budget as leverage in this situation.
I applaud the Senate's decision to decouple expansion from the budget, and I believe we can now have a full and fair debate on Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. As I've shared in previous emails, I look forward to discussing a number of specific concerns that have been raised.
Cost: The long-term costs of expansion are sobering, especially if the federal government fails to keep its financial commitment. Virginians could be on the hook for over $1 billion in new spending. Without making cuts to existing services or implementing new taxes, we cannot afford this burden.
Reform: Medicaid is growing at an unsustainable rate. In the last 30 years, the program has ballooned by 1600%, and it consumes nearly 40% of all new revenue. We must control costs before adding 400,000 Virginians to the Medicaid rolls.
Expanding entitlements: Our nation faces a challenge in funding entitlement programs. Candidly, the programs are going broke. In many situations, Medicaid expansion would add able-bodied working adults to the Medicaid program. I am not sure that this is the right choice for Virginia.
All of these concerns merit debate. I look forward to closely examining the Governor's Medicaid expansion proposal and studying its impact on the Commonwealth.
Brenda L. Pogge
Delegate, 96th District
Virginia House of Delegates
Paid for and Authorized by Brenda Pogge for Delegate