Virginia Lawmakers Adjourn without Budget But with Deals on Mental Health and Ethics
The General Assembly adjourned its 60-day session Saturday but will head back to Richmond in two weeks to fulfill what it failed to do: enact a state budget.
Before departing, lawmakers did enact significant reforms to the state’s mental health laws, reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests for students in grades 3-8, and tweak ethics laws. But they were unable to break their gridlock over the two-year, $96 billion spending plan that would start July 1.
The failure to enact budgets for both the fiscal year that ends June 30 and the next biennium raises the specter of a state government shutdown after July 1 and leaves local governments wondering when they will know what to expect from the state for their budgets.
Legislators also leave in limbo proposals for state employee raises, a plan to make over the Capitol Square complex, and, for Richmond, money to help memorialize the slave trade in Shockoe Bottom.
The budget’s fate is linked to the deep division between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over whether Virginia should expand Medicaid to as many as 400,000 of Virginia’s uninsured, working poor.
Minutes after the General Assembly adjourned Saturday afternoon, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an ardent supporter of harnessing federal funding for closing the coverage gap in health care, signed paperwork calling lawmakers back for a March 24 special session that he envisions lasting three weeks.
“It’s a beautiful day and I said, good, let’s all get back home to see your families, go home to see your constituents,” he said. “I have encouraged the conferees they can continue to work. I will be around, and I’m ready, willing
and able at any time to sit with anyone who wants to sit and discuss closing the coverage gap.”
House Republicans touted their success in reforming ethics and the Standards of Learning, addressing gaps in the mental health system, and producing a structurally balanced budget that would fully fund pensions for state employees in the second year of the budget.
They called again for decoupling Medicaid expansion from the budget and expressed concern about the Senate’s willingness to increase funding for higher education to suppress higher tuitions. Other than Medicaid, “that is the one area we’re probably farthest apart,” said House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights.
Senate Democrats said they were not concerned over not having a budget deal Saturday, and reiterated their position that they will not agree to a spending plan that does not incorporate a form of Medicaid expansion.
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