Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Yes Virginia, There Is a Budget!

The House quickly took up and passed HB5001 (the Caboose Budget that covers the remainder of this fiscal year) and HB5002 (the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget). Virginia becomes the 34th state to expand Medicaid.

Enormous gratitude to Speaker Kirk Cox, House Appropriations Chair, Delegate Chris Jones, House Minority Leader, Delegate David Toscano, Senator Dick Saslaw, the Senate Democratic Caucus, and especially to Senator Emmett Hanger. Without Senator Hanger, this would not have happened. And, of course, a big shout out to the Freshman Class of the House of Delegates. The election last fall set the stage for today. Elections matter!

Many details to come, but your GR Director is ready to close out this session and celebrate this hard-fought, years-long win. Thank you to our activists who engaged, called, wrote letters, and sent emails. You made the difference. We have a budget that invests in Virginia, our public schools, and our public school employees!

FYI, in case you are wondering why they are coming back to session on June 11, it's to take up elections of judges.

The Senate Passes a Budget

By a vote of 23-17, the Virginia Senate passed a budget that expands Medicaid and invests in Virginia. Details to follow. Now we wait for the House to pass the budget and then this special session can adjourn sine die!

All Democrats voted YES and Senators Hanger, Wagner, Chafin, and Vogel joined the YES votes.

Senate Expands Medicaid, Almost Has a Budget

The Senate just voted 22-18 to adopt Senator Hanger's substitute budget that expands Medicaid and invests in VA. All of the Democrats along with Republican Senators Hanger, Wagner, and Chafin voted in favor of expansion. They are now working through 18 floor amendments that are designed to chip away at the Medicaid expansion budget they just adopted. The first block of them died 22-18. I would anticipate that outcome with all of the amendments.

The House reconvened as soon as the Senate voted on the budget substitute and are not waiting for the floor amendments. The House Appropriations Committee will meet at 6pm to review what hey Senate adopted and vote to take it to the floor of the House later tonight for a vote.

We are close. Medicaid expansion in Virginia!

It Looks Like Today Will Be the Day

The Senate is making progress on the budget. It has been a long process this morning, but as of right now the Senate rejected the Caboose budget that the Senate Finance Committee passed. That budget covers the remainder of the current fiscal year. That budget did not include any provisions for Medicaid expansion. They passed Senator Hanger's substitute to the Caboose Bill for the current fiscal year. That bill does include components of Medicaid expansion. The Caboose bill substitute passed 23-17 with Senators Hanger, Wagner, Chafin, and Vogel voting with the the Democrats in favor of the bill.

They have now moved on to the 2018-2020 Biennial budget. They have rejected the version of the budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. They are currently debating Senator Hanger's substitute budget. There are 23 floor amendments, so the debate will likely take some time. Senator Norment is also putting his Republican colleagues through the ringer with very detailed questions on minute details of the budget proposal.

The House is ready to roll once the Senate adopts a budget. They convened as planned at 2pm and are now in recess watching and waiting with the rest of us as the Senate goes through the process. As soon as the Senate finishes up, the House Appropriations Committee will meet to review what the Senate passed and then go to the floor to vote. The Senate should end up passing the compromise budget that the House has already agreed to, so once the House has a budget, assuming nothing crazy happens, they should be able to move quickly.

I will keep you updated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Senate Finance Committee: Fireworks, Sort of a Budget, and Another Delay

There were all sorts of fireworks this morning in the Senate Finance Committee. We knew there were not enough votes in this committee to get a budget that included Medicaid expansion passed. Without the committee voting a budget through, there would be nothing for the full Senate to consider. We know there are enough votes on the floor of the Senate to pass a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, but if a budget doesn't get to the floor, the vote can't happen.

Senator Tommy Norment, the Senate Majority leader opposes Medicaid expansion and has lost some members of his caucus to the other side of the Medicaid fight. He does not want a vote on Medicaid expansion on the floor as he will lose. That is the bottom line in this entire debate.

Today the Senate Finance Committee took up the budget compromise that has been worked out with the House of Delegates. Keep in mind that the House has already passed a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, so the compromise budget the committee was considering expanded Medicaid. There was a different budget proposed today by Senator Norment. It did not expand Medicaid and, therefore, did not make the investments in Virginia that could not be afforded with the additional revenues available with expansion.

As expected, the committee rejected the compromise budget and approved Senator's Norment's budget. No worries, as we know they will amend the budget on the floor when they finally take it up. They have the votes to do that. The 19 Democrats will vote for expansion as will Senators Hanger and Wagner. We are also hearing rumor that Senator Chafin may vote yes. We needed a budget, any budget, on the floor of the Senate for us to progress towards an adopted state budget, and that happened today.

There were fireworks, though. After Senator Norment's non-Medicaid budget passed in committee he asked that the vote on the compromise budget be reconsidered. At first here was some confused looks by committee members and when asked why he wanted to vote reconsidered Senator Norment said, "I will make my motivation known after we agree to reconsider the vote." Luckily Senator Saslaw knows the Senate rules and knew that if a bill is considered and rejected twice in committee there are road blocks to getting it to the floor. It was Norment's last attempt to kill Medicaid expansion. Senator Hanger abruptly adjourned the committee before Senator Norment could get a second vote. It was one of the most stunning moments I have witnessed in the General Assembly. There were audible gasps from the folks watching the proceedings and from the lobbyists who were sent off to an overflow room to watch a live feed of the committee.

So there is a budget going to the floor of the Senate and a path to Medicaid expansion still exists. We just need the Senate to act on it. They have, once again, adjourned until morning.

Will the VA Senate Vote On a Budget Today?

This time last week I was optimistic that the VA Senate would stop the games and actually do their job- take up a state budget. I was wrong.

Today the Senate will convene at 3:00pm. We will know far more after the Senate Finance Committee meets at noon. If they take a up a budget, there will be a floor vote today. If they don't, there will likely not be a floor vote today. All signs are pointing to a floor vote, but I refuse to be optimistic only to be let down by the Republican Senate leadership like I was last week.

If the Senate approves a budget today, the House will take it up tomorrow. Speaker Cox has called the House back at 2pm tomorrow to be ready just in case. Of course he did that last week, too, only to be let down. He made his disappointment very clear last week. He expects a budget tomorrow.

We will see. For now, as we approach the noon hour, let's see what our Virginia Senate is prepared to do and how they will do it.

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!