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In first speech as Gov, McAuliffe calls for speedy Medicaid expansion

New Gov. Terry McAuliffe is wasting no time in pushing state lawmakers to expand Medicaid eligibility.

In his first full workday, in his first speech to the General Assembly, McAuliffe said he will seek a budget amendment that would force the Medicaid Innovation Reform Commission — a group put together in last year’s budget to study Medicaid reforms and the potential for expansion — to finish its work less than two months from now.

The MIRC was a compromise last year between expansion-supporting Democrats in the Senate and expansion-opposing Republicans in the House.

Republican House members on the MIRC have said they expect its work to take years.

Try seven weeks, McAuliffe said.

He said he’ll ask for a budget amendment — he isn’t allowed to propose amendments himself — to require the MIRC to wrap up its work by the time the legislature adjourns in March.

“The commission has done useful work, but our citizens need an answer, without delay,” McAuliffe said. “These families have been waiting long enough.”

McAuliffe has made no secret of his support for Medicaid expansion, a prong of the federal Affordable Care Act. Under that law, if states expand Medicaid to cover more people, the federal government will pick up most of the tab.

McAuliffe says expanding Medicaid will bring federal tax dollars back to Virginia and helping to cover the current expenses for indigent care.

“If we fail to exercise this option, we will forgo $2.1 billion annually in federal funding over the next three years. That is more than $5 million per day,” McAuliffe said. “This is simply a good deal for the states that choose to take it.”

Republicans are leery, though, fearing that the federal government can’t afford to keep its promise, and calling for changes to make Medicaid leaner and more efficient.

McAuliffe also said he’ll push lawmakers on something else they’ve been reluctant to do — give the power to draw legislative district lines over to a non-partisan redistricting commission.

As it is now, legislators themselves draw their own district lines, led by whichever party is in power and always drawn to benefit that party.

“Legislative districts should keep communities intact and not be drawn for the political convenience of members, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans,” McAuliffe said. “We can join 13 states that have made this reform, and strike another blow for good government in the Commonwealth.”

McAuliffe touched on other issues that may have trouble finding favor in the Republican-dominated legislature, such as giving the children of undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at Virginia colleges.

“I support offering the children of immigrants who have been living, learning and paying taxes in this commonwealth for years that opportunity to study at our colleges and universities,” he said.

The General Assembly should not wait another year to pass the bipartisan Dream Act.”

But on other issues he discussed, he and lawmakers may find more common ground.

McAuliffe called for reforms to Virginia’s workforce development programs, to simplify them and cater them to where there are job openings.

He also said the state needs to help expand job opportunities for military veterans.

“Giving them the tools they need to thrive in the civilian workforce will give Virginia a critical economic advantage as we compete with other states and other nations,” McAuliffe said. “Many civilian jobs, from healthcare to energy to education, are ideally suited for Virginia’s veterans.”

McAuliffe called for reforms to Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests, something Republican lawmakers plan to discuss in a press conference Tuesday morning.

“We should stop over-testing our students. We should examine essay testing and other ways to measure knowledge and cognitive reasoning.  And we should free teachers to spend more time on new subject material,” McAuliffe said. “The SOLs have been a tremendous success for our state, but they are now a generation old and need to be modernized to fit the needs of today’s families and today’s economy. … I am optimistic that we can reform the SOLs in a way that maintains our high education standards, while encouraging innovation and creativity in the classroom.”