Ken Plum: Staying ahead of the feds

kenplum2The House and the Senate have penned similar but competing mid-point versions of the 2014-2016 biennial budget. These budgets will now go to a conference committee to work out differences in time for a February 28th adjournment of the annual legislative session. With both houses being under the same political party control, the differences are not great and will likely be easily reconciled.

Governor McAuliffe had proposed revisions to the Commonwealth’s budget, but his recommendations were ignored in one significant way: his budget proposal included the expansion of Medicaid for the working poor, but the majority party in both houses adamantly oppose it. Had Medicaid expansion been approved, the state would have saved $107,000,000 in state spending in FY 2016 alone and would have picked up $482,300,000 in new federal money. The issue of this column is not Medicaid expansion, however, for which I have made my position known in several columns. Instead, I want to focus on the paranoia in Richmond over the actions of the Federal government that the opposition to Medicaid expansion reflects. That paranoia was reflected among other places in a budget amendment in the House that provided that “no general or non-general funds shall be appropriated or expended for such costs as may be intended to implement any federal program or Presidential executive action calling for ‘free’ tuition at institutions of higher education.” The amendment passed with my speaking against it, suggesting that we should at least see the new program before we decided to oppose it.

Virginia has a long history of opposing federal action. Going back to 1798, James Madison introduced the concept of interposition – that the state could interpose itself between the federal government and the people when it deemed federal laws to be unconstitutional. Interposition or nullification has been used by many states to oppose federal actions on many issues. The Civil War was the most dramatic statement at attempted interposition.

In the 1950’s, Virginia attempted to interpose itself against federal action to desegregate the schools. Its efforts through more than 40 lawsuits became known as “massive resistance,” which of course ultimately failed.

The call has gone out once again for the need to protect ourselves against the federal government, particularly the Obama administration. Several bills, for example, were introduced this session to nullify actions of the Environmental Protection Agency in air and water quality regulations. Our Federal system with its checks and balances have worked well for many years to protect citizens from a run-away government. At the same time, it creates challenges for smooth operation. This continuing power struggle diverts attention from the real issues of our economy and society and leads to the frustrations that many feel with the operation or gridlock of government. The federal government is not always wrong. At the same time, the state government is not always right. The public expects that leaders work through these differences and that issues be resolved.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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