Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Vote in the Senate Today

It looks like the deal you read about on the budget has fallen apart. The Senate will come back next week to look at any new amendments. So we continue to be on hold until May 29 at noon.

The games in the Senate continue. They had one job.

And They Have Recessed

So many different options are being played out on the floor of the Senate. They have recessed until 5pm. The Rules Committee is meeting during recess. We are hearing that they are determining when they can call for the Senate Finance Committee to meet. Is the budget compromise falling apart?

Keep in mind all of the details of the budget compromise are published on the House Appropriations web site. Would the Senate really back out of a compromise that includes teacher raises, state employee raises, investments in programs for at-risk students, investments in teacher education programs and programs to support teacher diversity? Maybe....

They Have Convened

In the last 45 minutes while we were waiting for the Senate there was all sorts of drama in the Capitol. The rumors are flying as to what might happen today. They are on the floor. What will they do?

Budget Watch Post #1

Spent the morning talking with members of the Virginia Senate trying to figure out the path to a Senate budget. There was some thought that the Senate Finance Committee would meet this morning, but that didn't happen. We are now waiting for the Senate to convene. They have nothing on the calendar since the Committee didn't meet to take up the budget, so they may immediately recess once they gavel in, and either have the Finance Committee meet or maybe, go to the nuclear option. That option is a discharge of the Senate Finance Committee. It is a procedure very rarely used in the Commonwealth, but it would allow the budget to come to the floor without having to go through the Finance Committee.

General consensus is there are enough votes in the floor to pass the compromise budget that expands Medicaid and invests in Virginia. There aren't, currently, enough votes to get a budget out of the Finance Committee. We have been running vote numbers all day and without a massive play, the votes really aren't there. Each party caucused this afternoon and worked on their strategies. We will, hopefully, see what they have decided.

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to take up the compromise budget tomorrow. They have already posted a presentation on the budget and all the details of all the amendments. Assuming the Senate does something today, they will be ready.

The compromise budget is good for K-12. You can see the details here.

I will post as the day goes on. Right now the Senate is almost 30 minutes past their announced convene time.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Budget Rumors and Games

It is now day 40 of the Special Session of the General Assembly. The Special Session was called for the sole purpose of completing work on a two-year state budget. Forty days and the Senate has yet to take action on any budget at all.

It is 34 days since the House of Delegates passed a bipartisan budget and sent it to the Senate for consideration. If it isn't clear where the roadblock is, let me paint it for you. It is the Republican Senate leadership. They continue to play games with our economy and play games with state, local, and school employees. Last week they played a game with us all when the Senate Finance Committee announced a meeting date and we all thought they might actually look at the House budget. They didn't. Instead they heard presentations on state revenues and on the differences between the House budget and the Senate budget (that doesn't really exist). Then they adjourned.

By the end of the week it was announced that the full Senate would come back on May 22 to continue working. In a hopeful sign, Speaker Kirk Cox has called the House back on May 23 just in case the Senate acts on something. Remember that in order to have a budget, it must be agreed to by both chambers. So each body must take up the other body's version of the budget before they come to an adopted budget.

Apparently even Speaker Cox and the Republican leadership in the House is not convinced the Senate isn't still playing games. In his press release Speaker Cox said, "The House of Delegates will reconvene on May 23rd at Noon to await action by the Senate of Virginia on House Bills 5001 and 5002. While it is still unclear exactly what action the Senate will take, we do expect to receive budget bills for the House to consider late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The House will act as quickly as possible as we look to finalize the state budget.”

So there is the reality of where we are, and the underground rumors that seem to be getting stronger.

Where we are: The fight is over Medicaid expansion in Virginia. That is the bottom line. The Governor and the House of Delegates both supported expanding Medicaid and investing the saved state revenues in public services, including schools and for teacher salaries.

The Senate has refused to budge on Medicaid and they continue to use state dollars for expenses that can be covered by Federal dollars. They also refuse to expand health care to the 400,000 Virginians who would become eligible under an expansion.

The Commonwealth's current fiscal year ends at midnight, June 30. If there is no budget by then, our state government will shut down. That won't happen, but the Senate Republicans know the closer to that date, the greater the pressure on everyone else to give up the fight. Keep in mind most local governments are required by law to have passed their budgets by April 1, and they have without real information on their level of state funding.

The rumors: There are meetings going on behind the scenes to get the Senate budget to a place where the House can easily agree to it. That would mean Medicaid expansion. There is no way the House Republicans, who have TWICE voted to expand, will back down now. They have risked far too much political capital. The Senate Finance Committee is meeting tomorrow, although no time has yet been set, to, one would hope, take up a budget. Senators Hanger and Wagner are now in the expansion corner with the 19 Senate Democrats, so once a budget gets to the floor, it will (should) pass.

If the budgets are similar, there won't be a conference to hammer out the differences, and we could have a biennial budget by Thursday or Friday. That's what I am hearing will happen, but, there have been too many games for me to completely buy this scenario. We must keep the pressure on our members of the Senate to expand Medicaid. The VEA has created an action alert urging the Senate to do what is right for Virginia. Click here to contact your Senator.

If the budgets are far enough apart that there isn't agreement, the bills will go to conference. That could drag all of this out for another week to ten days or more. Let's hope the latest rumors are true. Keep checking here for updates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

And the Wait Continues

So far this week the Senate has come back to Richmond and the Senate Finance Committee has met. Yesterday, a series of Senate Finance Sub Committees even met. Sounds like progress? Don't fool yourself.

The Senate took no action on any budget. They are having "open dialogue" during subcommittee meetings and looking at member amendments (to a budget that doesn't yet exist). In a really "transparent" move yesterday, Senator Steve Newman, Chair of the K-12 Senate Finance Sub Committee asked that his committee meet to discuss "well intended items from members" that he "doubts we would do". After the they were gaveled in by the chair, they huddled around him, in private without the public able to hear anything, and killed amendments that some Senators wanted considered. Among the "well intended items" that he "doubts we will do" were two amendments to include teacher salary increases in the Senate budget. If you want to know what that "meeting" looked like, here it was.

Both Senator Dick Saslaw and Senator Janet Howell have submitted budget amendments to include state support for a 3% salary increase for teachers. Today the Washington Post is reporting Senator Saslaw's frustration with the entire process and his "nuclear option" for ending the stalemate. Washington Post subscribers can read the article here.

The Senate will come back n Monday, May 22. We will see what they do. Keep in mind the House adopted their budget on April 17. Also keep in mind that without a budget by midnight, June 30, Virginia's government will shut down. We won't have the House to blame. We won't have Senators like Dick Saslaw to blame. We will have a small handful of Republican members of the Senate to blame.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Will We Ever Have a Budget?

We are now closing in on the two month mark since the General Assembly adjourned without a budget. They reconvened nearly a month ago in a Special Session to take up the budget, and yet have only met a small handful of times. As of today, the House of Delegates has completed their part of the process and adopted a budget. Their budget had bipartisan support for expanding Medicaid in Virginia and using the saved state dollars to invest in vital public programs like our public schools and to give teachers a raise.

The House sent their budget to the VA Senate for consideration on April 17, but rather than meet to take up the House budget, Co-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and lead budget conferee, Senator Tommy Norment, joyfully sent the members of the Senate home to "go and enjoy a sarsaparilla." They have not come back to Richmond to take up any budget work and they have not yet proposed a budget of their own. These are all games being played by the Republican leadership in the Senate and these games put us all at risk.

The Senate will come back to Richmond on May 14 to look at the House budget... they say...but maybe not. The game goes on.

Virginia's current budget runs until midnight, June 30. If there is no budget before then, Virginia's government will shut down. The Senate Republicans will be the reason that happens if it does. Period. They have ignored the main function of their role as legislators- to take up and pass a budget.

When the Senate finally does take up a budget, it will go through the Committee process and have to proceed to the floor of the Senate. The Senate will, ultimately, pass a budget that does not match up to the House budget so it will have to go to conference. Keep in mind, the regular session ended when the budget conferees could not agree on Medicaid expansion.

Other than June 30, there is another big date to watch- May 22. If there is no budget by May 22, the Governor will not have an opportunity to amend the budget and call the General Assembly back to consider his amendments before our government will shut down. Senator Norment knows this. The word on the street is that he is marking time so that nothing passes before May 22. Games, my friends.

There are few people who work in this crazy environment that believe we won't get Medicaid expansion in Virginia this year. I believe legislators in the Senate will follow the lead of their colleagues in the House, but playing these games with Virginia's economy, that's unacceptable. Local governments are finalizing their budgets, as they are required to do by law, but with only "best guesses" about state funding. That is unacceptable. School divisions are holding off on teacher contracts for next school year because they don't know how much money will be allocated for K-12. That is unacceptable.

So while Senator Norment and his friends in the Virginia Senate sit back and sip a sarsaparilla and play games with Virginia's economy, lets remember that they are all up for election in 2019. Elections matter!