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!