It seemed likely Tuesday that the Virginia Senate would make some movement on the budget and potentially approve a form of Medicaid expansion, readying it for the House of Delegates the next day.
But after meeting briefly, the Senate made a couple of unusual moves to push budget talks back another week, drawing frustration from Democratic senators, delegates and Gov. Ralph Northam.
Sen. Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw said he will resort to a “nuclear” procedural move — one that would wrest the state budget bill from the Senate Finance Committee — if the panel does not send a spending plan to the full Senate before it reconvenes next week.
Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said he will make a motion to “discharge” the committee, which he says has been dragging its feet on the budget since a second Republican senator declared his willingness to approve Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Confidence is high among Democratic legislators in Fairfax County’s General Assembly delegation that nearly 400,000 more Virginians will be eligible for Medicaid coverage when the state adopts a budget, which must happen by July 1 to avoid a government shutdown.
Virginia House Republicans on Wednesday blocked two tax increases to help fund Metro, leaving a landmark regional funding deal intact, but at a larger cost to road projects in the state’s Washington suburbs.
The action means “high priority projects . . . are less certain of funding simply due to lack of revenue,” said Martin E. Nohe, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
Most members of the state legislative panel that can kill or approve the rules for banks, insurers and utilities have investments in those industries.
But while consumer advocates complain the two committees are too close to business, and grumble about members’ interests and the campaign donations they receive, legislators insist they are not influenced. Political scientists say the real cost is likely public trust.
Virginia lawmakers briefly returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to kick off a new round of negotiations over whether to expand Medicaid. But there was little actual movement on the issue, or any sign of when there might be a resolution.
Legislators left town after voting to start a new special session devoted to passing a state budget, a move necessary before lawmakers can resume negotiations on Medicaid in earnest. The GOP-led General Assembly failed to pass a state spending plan during its regular session earlier this year because of disagreements over whether it should include Medicaid expansion.
Virginia’s commitment to provide $154 million each year to repair the Metro transit system has not changed, but the sources of the money would, under amendments that Gov. Ralph Northam made to the legislation Monday.
Pushed by Northern Virginia localities worried about the loss of regional money for local transportation projects, Northam restored most of two proposed local tax hikes that had been stricken in a compromise between the Senate and House of Delegates in the waning hours of the General Assembly session.
Virginia’s General Assembly wrapped up its 2018 regular session Saturday with its most important task unfinished. At an impasse over whether to expand Medicaid to some 400,000 eligible Virginians, the legislature failed to pass a state budget before adjournment and will have to take that up at a special session.
If the question of how to fund Metro is an 800-pound gorilla for state lawmakers to tame, then the matter of how to find more money for bus and rail service in Prince William and Stafford is merely a 120-pound chimpanzee.
Gov. Ralph Northam asked General Assembly budget leaders on Thursday to produce a two-year state budget by scheduled adjournment in eight days that expands Medicaid coverage for uninsured Virginians, bolsters financial reserves and invests in such priorities as public education.
With the two chambers hundreds of millions of dollars apart, Northam acknowledged that funding of public services will depend on how the House of Delegates and Senate resolve their stalemate over Medicaid expansion and whether the state will realize an estimated $371 million in savings by accepting additional federal money for the program under the Affordable Care Act.