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McAuliffe continues to mull over state budget

On the eve of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's second visit in eight days to Loudoun County, it remained unclear Tuesday whether the Democratic governor will lend his signature to the two-year state budget recently approved by the General Assembly – a spending plan that does not include Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Under Virginia law, the governor has seven calendar days from when the budget arrives at his desk – which came on Sunday in this instance – to either sign, veto or take no action on the budget. Taking no action would enact the General Assembly-approved plan.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy on Tuesday said only “the governor and his team are still reviewing the budget and making decisions about which actions are best for the people of Virginia.”

The governor will be in Leesburg Wednesday to address local business leaders at a Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, this coming one week after McAuliffe attended a ceremonial bill signing at an Ashburn elementary school.

Virginia's House and Senate approved a budget late in the night June 12 after a months-long standoff over extending Medicaid health coverage to as a many as 400,000 Virginians. Through the Affordable Care Act, states can opt into Medicaid expansion with the federal government covering 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and at least 90 percent of the expense thereafter.

All year leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates has resolutely opposed Medicaid expansion in any form, bringing to a halt budget negotiations between those conservatives and Democrats in favor of growing the entitlement program.

A breakthrough in the talks came June 9 when former state Sen. Phil Puckett abruptly resigned his seat, sparking controversy and tipping power in the upper house from Democrats to the GOP.

Lawmakers were also 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 commonwealth's rainy day fund.

While Republicans hostile to Obamacare have decried the state's Medicaid program as inefficient and too costly, Democrats have underscored that the commonwealth is foregoing an estimated $5 million in federal funds every day the state declines expansion.

Republicans largely declared victory following the late-night action June 12.

"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."

McAuliffe, though, has been careful in not announcing whether he will sign or veto the budget. The governor responded to the Republican lawmakers' actions June 12 by saying the tea party has taken control of the Virginia GOP.

“Virginians deserve better than representatives who put narrow ideology ahead of what is best for our families, economy and budget,” said McAuliffe.

Members of the Virginia Progressive Caucus sent a letter to McAuliffe Tuesday, voicing their "strong opposition" to the Senate-amended budget and urging the governor "to take decisive action through a veto or a line-item veto to ensure our state budget is aligned with the economic needs of our state."

The letter, signed by eight Democratic state lawmakers, states: "We believe it is unconscionable to refuse to accept $2 billion per year of our own taxpayer funds, especially at a time when our economy is performing weakly," and "Medicaid Expansion would create 30,000 jobs that our economy desperately needs."

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