Little comfort can be offered to Virginians worried their state government, in the absence of a budget for the coming fiscal year, will shut down July 1. And the news only got worse Monday.
An Old Dominion shutdown would be the culmination of a months-long partisan rumble over the issue of Medicaid expansion and, more broadly the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Democrats say they remain committed to expanding Medicaid to as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians though the Affordable Care Act, while leading Republicans have stood united in their opposition to all things Obamacare.
Yet while the tussle over Medicaid has splashed headlines for most of 2014, a new slice of somber news surfaced Monday: Members of the House Appropriations Committee learned the latest revenue collections from the state forecast an approximately $300 million budget shortfall.
Loudoun state Del. Tag Greason (R-32nd), who was in Richmond for the briefing, said the new revenue numbers compound the budget standoff.
Essentially, Greason said, the $300 million shortfall means the gap between the House and Senate budgets widens. Therefore, even if the Medicaid issue is settled, it's likely to take longer for the two chambers to agree on the final spending bill, Greason said.
“Before we were talking about nickels and dimes,” he said of the House and Senate spending proposals, not considering the Medicaid question. “Now we're talking about $100 bills.”
A spokesman for Gov. McAuliffe, Brian Coy, said the new revenue data “just underscores the urgency” for the “two parties to put politics aside and reach a deal.”
Coy said the governor is not interested in separating the Medicaid debate from the budget because Medicaid “is a core part of the budget – about 20 percent.”
Del. Greason has urged the governor to call for the 12 conferees from the House and Senate to sit down in the same room – something that hasn't happened in recent weeks, Greason said.
The governor's spokesman said there's nothing stopping the conferees from doing so. Coy added that it's up to the General Assembly, not the governor, to pass a budget.
In addition to the revenue concern, the state legislators received a briefing on whether McAuliffe has the authority to keep the government open if no budget bill is passed. The answer to that question, state attorneys explained, is that the government could remain open, but employees would basically be working on an “IOU” basis until a budget is finalized.
The attorneys said the governor has no authority to spend money without a budget adopted by the General Assembly.