From Richmond, with Ambivalence

Cue John Lennon.

“It’s just like starting over …”

We’re back in session at noon today.  The Senate has organized.  So has the House.  And we’re here for a whole new session.

With no agreed bill from the Assembly, the Governor handed down a new budget bill this morning, SB 5003.  It does a lot of things.  Here are the high-lights:

1.  It makes 104 changes from Gov. McDonnell’s original budget.

2.  It expands Medicaid, per the original Budget guidance in 2013 so as to insure 200,000 working Virginians making under 133% of the poverty line.  In addition to expanding coverage, the Governor’s new budget saves $225M over two years, by shifting certain public health obligations from “general funds” (state payer) to “non-general fund” (Federal payer).

3.  It takes $225M in savings from expanding Medicaid and uses it in a number of ways, such as (i) giving a 2% pay increase to state employees and public school teachers, (ii) reimbursing localities for “Line of Duty” benefits paid to first responders and (iii) adding $17M in additional funds for public education.  Any additional savings –  beyond the $225 million — will be applied to the pay-down of our borrowing from the VRS in 2011.

4.  In addition, the Governor’s budget holds $100M in reserve funds for any potential new costs arising from Medicaid expansion.

This is all good stuff.  With the capitalist-based “Marketplace Virginia” concept of the Senate going down in flames, the Governor’s budget goes back to the basics, i.e. the expansion of Medicaid as originally contemplated by the Affordable Care Act.

And the savings identify items that we need to address, specifically the stagnant pay of our K-12 teachers in Virginia.

For reasons that are beyond my pay grade, the Governor’s budgetary savings — and targeted spending — may not be received with admiration by the House of Delegates.  For that reason, we are digging in for a few weeks of extra-session work.

And that’s the ambivalence.

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