Negotiations within the General Assembly have come to an end as the massive gap between the budgets from the House of Delegates and Senate will not be reconciled before the adjournment date set for tomorrow, March 10. The legislature has two options to rectify the problem: extension or special session.
The Medicaid expansion impasse is the main arbiter of the breakdown of budget negotiations. Undoubtedly the largest legislative measure of the session, it creates a financial chasm hundreds of millions of dollars wide in the state budget.
“We’re just too far apart,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr. (R-James City), who is one of the budget negotiators.
“We did a lot of work on the revenue issues, on language; we pretty much went through the whole budget once, in parts twice,” said House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk).
“When we got to the big issue, it just became apparent we didn’t have the time to have that kind of discussion in time to have a budget for Saturday,” he said.
According to a report from the Daily Press, Norment stated that the discussion of possible middle paths to budget agreement did not come up on Friday.
The House budget proposal would use federal funds to pay state Medicaid expansion. 90 percent of the cost would be paid for by funds allocated under the Obama-era Affordable Car Act (ACA), covering Virginians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person, this equates to approximately an income of $16,642 per year.
The lower chamber proposal also imposes work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Furthermore, cost-sharing from program enrollees would provide an additional avenue of funding, similar to programs already in place in Indiana and Kentucky.
On the other hand, the Senate budget proposal does not expand Medicaid. Their plan also leaves the current program stipulations of a 50-50 state and federal funding match. It also leaves the income cutoff at 80 percent below the federal poverty line.
According to some analysts, for a single parent with one dependent in Newport News, the cutoff is $6,200 in come per year. However, in other parts of the Commonwealth, that amount is lower.
Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) issued a statement mid-day Friday calling for a special session to reconcile the two-year state budget at a later date. In the statement, Cox said:
“The House of Delegates will adjourn sine die as scheduled on Saturday, but without an agreement on a new two-year state budget. The House of Delegates passed a resolution Friday applying to Governor Ralph Northam to convene a Special Session of the General Assembly to continue work on the budget.
We are all committed to completing work on a state budget long before July 1, but after a lengthy and tiring session the best step is for everyone to return home as we assess our next steps.
The two budgets differ dramatically on healthcare. The House budget includes a plan to work with the Trump administration to guarantee conservative reforms as part of any plan to expand Medicaid to low-income Virginians with no cost to state taxpayers. The Senate budget includes a plan to expand the current Medicaid program at a cost of $440 million with no funding to pay for it.
As I said three weeks ago, I remain concerned about the long-term fiscal implications of Medicaid expansion, but with a closely-divided House, Senator Hanger’s clear commitment to expanding Medicaid, and the Governor’s plan to send straightforward Medicaid expansion back to the legislature, I continue to believe our best option is to craft a plan that guarantees conservative reforms as part of any agreement on healthcare.
I recognize some disagree with this approach. Taking a few weeks away from Richmond will give us the opportunity to begin a fresh discussion on the next steps.”