Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
House leaders expect deals on Medicaid, transportation
Last week the House of Delegates and Senate passed two different budgets with two different versions of language on Medicaid expansion.
But a leading budget-writer said today he thinks the two sides will be able to reach agreement on what could be a roadblock in budget talks.
At a press conference by House Republicans, Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said that while the two houses’ language is different, both sides agree in principle that the state wants federal permission to reform the Medicaid program before agreeing to the expansion.
Jones said that the House version essentially says that if the federal government grants waivers requested by the state, then the issue goes back before the General Assembly for final permission for the state to move forward with expansion. The Senate version also requires the waivers but then allows the governor’s administration to move forward.
If necessary, Jones said, “we can certainly come back later in the year” to give permission for the expansion.
“I think we get there from here,” Jones said.
He added that House and Senate budget negotiators have already begun meeting to talk about some of the big-ticket items in the budget, such as capital projects and other waivers for people with disabilities.
“We put ourselves in a position to be very successful in conference,” Jones said.
The “conference” he refers to is the budget conference committee, the term for the dozen or so lawmakers from the House and Senate who are responsible for hammering out a final budget compromise before the legislature adjourns in a couple of weeks.
In years past, that conference has been frequently contentious and often late, failing in several recent years to reach a budget deal in time for the session to adjourn as scheduled. Jones suggested he doesn’t think that will happen this year.
He said he also thinks lawmakers can find an agreement — hopefully by mid-week next week — on transportation funding, probably the biggest and most contentious issue of this session.
The Senate last week failed to pass a transportation funding bill, leaving the House bill as the only vehicle for a compromise. That House bill is on the Senate Finance committee’s docket tomorrow morning, and must be acted upon this week.
Lawmakers hope to get some form of the bill through the Senate, buying more time for a deal to be reached in — again — a conference committee.
“I think we can get something done,” Jones said.
House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, is the chief sponsor of the House transportation bill. He said today that he knows that senators will change the bill to make it more to the Senate’s liking.
“What comes out of conference committee will be somewhat different than what goes in,” he said.