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State budget negotiators still talking

RICHMOND—State lawmakers are due to adjourn their session in just two days, but first they have to approve amendments to the state budget and vote on a transportation funding reform bill.

As of Thursday evening, the dozen lawmakers assigned to negotiate a compromise on budget amendments were still working, while the transportation compromise in bill form had hit at least the House desks for legislators to read.

Also Thursday, some lawmakers were hinting that transportation and the budget were linked, after some Democrats suggested they wouldn’t vote for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desired transportation bill unless he accedes to expand Medicaid eligibility, the major outstanding issue in budget negotiations.

“There are a lot of Democrats feeling that way right now,” said Sen. Janet Howell, D–Fairfax.

Given that the Senate is evenly divided and that anti-tax Republicans in both houses are unlikely to support the transportation bill, some Democratic support would be critical to passing it.

Likewise, the Senate will need at least one Democratic vote to pass a budget deal.

The Medicaid language is the most debatable difference between the House and Senate budget proposals, which otherwise aren’t that far apart.

The House would require federal waivers for reforming the program and only allow the expansion after those waivers are given and the 2014 General Assembly authorizes an expansion.

The Senate, prodded by Democrats in the evenly split body, also requires waivers but would allow the administration to move forward with expansion if those waivers were received.

On Thursday, 24 House Democrats signed a letter saying they couldn’t support a budget without the expansion.

On Wednesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell reiterated his opposition to the expansion in a letter to the chairmen of the General Assembly money committees.

McDonnell warned them that the waiver language in both budget proposals may not be enough to win his support for the final budget.

“I am most concerned that some may not fully understand the scope and magnitude of reform I believe is necessary to create the kind of cost-effective Medicaid plan that we can build upon,” McDonnell wrote. “In my view, reform is far more than simply receiving a waiver from the federal government.”

McDonnell said he also wants state-based reforms.

“Please understand that I cannot and will not support consideration of an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia until major reforms are authorized and completed, and until we receive guarantees that the federal government’s promises to the states can be kept without increasing the immoral national debt,” McDonnell wrote. “The country is broke, and I will not support policies that make it worse.”

No budget can pass without McDonnell’s signature, but it also can’t pass without at least one Democratic vote in the Senate, where both parties have 20 senators. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can’t break ties on budget bills.

Del. Kirk Cox, R–Colonial Heights, said Thursday evening that the budget negotiations could be finished before Friday morning, but also noted that negotiators had been on the House and Senate floors dealing with other bills until around 7 p.m., putting budget work later into the evening.

“We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ve made some progress,” Cox said.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com

 

 

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