Sunday, February 18, 2018

Senate CUTS, House INVESTS- Medicaid Battle Lines Drawn

Today the Money Committees (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) revealed their amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget. A Medicaid battle is now going to define the last few weeks of session. 

For context, thirty-two states and Washington, DC have expanded Medicaid. Virginia has not. While expanding Medicaid obviously requires us to cover more Virginians (which is a good thing) it comes with nearly $3.2 BILLION of Federal dollars to cover the costs and frees up $400 million in state dollars that we currently spend on programs that would be covered by the Federal government if we expand Medicaid.

The House, after a resounding election result in November with the pick up of 15 seats by Democrats, has agreed with Governor McAuliffe (in his budget) to expand Medicaid. The Republicans in the House have long argued that the Federal funding available to states under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not sustainable. Each year that Virginia does not expand Medicaid they leave nearly $3.2 billion of Federal money on the table. With Congress not repealing the ACA and the big pick up of Democrats on Election Day, the House Appropriations Committee finally decided to accept the expansion. Keep in mind the expansion will free up just over $400 million of state funding that we currently use to fund many Medicaid programs using state dollars. So the House had $400 million more to spend than the Senate. 

So what was the House able to do for our public schools with some of that additional revenue? 

The House EXTENDS the 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions from December 2019 as proposed by McAuliffe, to July 1. 

The House INCREASES the At-risk add on funding and add language that would allow that money to be used to hire more school counselors. 

The House INCREASES the amount of supplemental lottery fund. That money goes directly to the school divisions on a per pupil basis. There is no local match required, so school divisions really have the opportunity to spend it on the programs they need. Now, the House always plays a little Tom Foolery on this budget line by adding things to this "money with no strings" like the At-Risk Add on increase and changes to the SOQ on elementary school principals as recommended by the Board of Ed, but they did increase this money. Without Medicaid expansion, that doesn't happen. 

The House also INVESTS and targets money to the Virginia Pre-School Initiative, a platform issue for Governor Northam. 

The Senate Finance Committee did NOT include medicaid expansion in their budget, so they are looking at cutting Governor McAuliffe's introduced budget by at least the $400 million the expansion brings to Virginia. The VA Senate was not up for election in 2017, so, while they are aware of the results in the House, they are still separated from it, so they feel shielded by the public on this issue. 

So without Medicaid expansion, what does the Senate offer our public schools? They are required to provide technical updates to the cost of the Standards of Quality. This is rebenchmarking. Please remember rebenchmarking simply updates the cost to continue the programs we currently have in the Commonwealth. It does not change anything. No new programs or positions are funded through this money. It is NOT NEW MONEY. While it is an investment in K-12, it is required by law and does not show a new commitment to our public schools. Don't be fooled by the messaging of some of our legislators. 

The Senate REMOVES the 2% salary increase at the end of year two as proposed by Governor McAuliffe. No raises AT ALL  for two years.

The Senate CUTS $7.1 million to make sure every elementary school in the Commonwealth has a principal.

The Senate DOES NOT add guidance counselors. 

The Senate increases the At-Risk Add on ONLY IN THE SECOND YEAR.

Ultimately the two budgets will go to Conference and we will see if the House, shaken up by the 2017 elections, or the Senate, still a brick wall against expansion, will win. There is very limited middle ground on this front. These last few weeks of session will be eventful and those of us who voted in 2017 with the goal of expanding medicaid will need to take our fight to the VA Senate and stand with the House. 

Expand Medicaid and have an additional $400 million in Federal dollars to invest in Virginia as the House proposes, or stand with the Senate, stay the course, and leave the $3.2 billion in Federal dollars on the table forcing Virginia to take a cuts only approach? What will our legislators do? As Ralph Northam said on the campaign trail, "If someone told me they'd vote to leave $3.2 BILLION dollars on the table, I'd tell them they should have their head examined!" 

The doctor has spoken!