Monday, January 20, 2014

Quite a Day at the Old GA

It was quite a day at the old General Assembly.  Although Martin Luther King was honored in both chambers, the GA does not take the holiday.  Today was the lobby day for a wide assortment of groups:  marijuana legalization advocates were present and fired up, gun rights advocates wore stickers saying “Guns Don’t Kill People, “ gun control advocates had stickers saying “Checks Save Lives,” and the motorcycle riders sported their colors.

Once more, you can’t make this stuff up.  As I was observing the Senate session in Senate Room Two, a gun rights advocate wearing a coonskin hat sat next to me.  As he left, his gun fell out of its holster on the floor beside me.  I feared my days were over, but the gun did not fire.  I guess if it had, the floor would have killed me and not the gun.

I have written earlier about the Chafin/Puckett salary amendments.  If adopted they will provide the state share of a 6% salary increase for school personnel.  The problem is that there is little money to work with in this legislative session.  It cost $39.1 million to provide the state share of a 1% salary increase.

What could change that?  The answer is Medicaid Expansion.  So how does all this affect funding for public education?  If we take the Federal dollars for the Medicaid Expansion, we can use those dollars to pay for programs now funded by the General Fund.  That would free up funds for public education and salaries. 

Federal dollars will replace General Fund dollars if coverage is expanded.  Over the next nine years this could free up $298.8 million for health care for inmates, $637.4 million for indigent care at teaching hospitals, $292 million for behavioral health services at community service boards, and $104 million for other.  This adds up to $1.3 billion!  Education now gets 30% of each General Fund dollar.  That could be $444 million more for our schools.

Plain and simple, one way to provide additional dollars for teacher salaries and other educational priorities is to expand Medicaid. 

Beyond the Federal dollars, it is estimated that expansion will create 33,000 additional jobs.  This increase on payroll will increase tax revenues providing more funds for our schools.  

Medicaid Expansion will provide medical insurance to 191,000 uncovered Virginians.  Many of the uninsured families include students we teach.  Medicaid Expansion will reduce the hidden tax you pay when you pay your health insurance premiums.  Paying medical customers, those with wealth or insurance, absorb the costs of the uninsured when they pay their premiums.   Not having to pay for the uninsured could decrease your insurance premiums by up to 10%.

So, the bottom line is that Medicaid Expansion will increase your bottom line and the bottom line for public education.