Both chambers of the General Assembly approved a two-year state budget late Thursday night, and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is weighing lending his signature to the spending plan that doesn't expand Medicaid.
After a week that began with Democrats losing control of the Senate following a Democratic senator's resignation, McAuliffe was far from cheerful over the prospect of signing a budget without the expansion.
“This evening’s actions demonstrated how deeply committed Republicans in the General Assembly are to denying 400,000 Virginians access to life saving health care,” McAuliffe said in a statement issued this morning just after midnight. “Instead of moving forward on a plan to close the coverage gap, the Senate of Virginia moved our commonwealth backward by violating the terms of the bipartisan agreement they reached in last year’s budget.”
“When this budget reaches my desk I will evaluate it carefully and take the actions that I deem necessary, but this fight is far from over. This is the right thing to do for Virginia, and I will not rest until we get it done,” the governor said.
Beyond the former state Sen. Phil Puckett's resignation Monday, lawmakers were nudged to action by a growing state revenue shortfall, now estimated at $1.5 billion. Without approving a budget, the state isn't allowed to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in the state's rainy day fund.
Thursday's activity wasn't without contention. Two Republican senators, including local Sen. Dick Black, introduced amendments to the budget to block Gov. McAuliffe from taking any future action to expand Medicaid without the approval of the General Assembly. While Black's proposal failed, a similar measure by a conservative colleague passed.
Republicans largely declared victory following the late-night action.
"Medicaid expansion is a controversial issue, and it was wrong for the Senate and Gov. McAuliffe to insert it into the budget," Del. David LaRock (R-33rd) said in a statement. "Taking Medicaid out of budget negotiations was the right thing to do, and it’s something we saw broad support for from citizens and local governments across Virginia. We can continue to debate and discuss the merits of expansion, but the budget should never have been used as leverage in that debate."
Several Democrats expressed surprise over the amendments, calling them deceitful and disingenuous. McAuliffe said Virginians "deserve better than representatives who put narrow ideology ahead of what is best for our families, economy and budget.”
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch
, the adopted budget includes $842.5 million in spending cuts that, combined with $707.5 million from the rainy day fund, would fill the projected $1.55 billion revenue shortfall.