Ken Plum: Words of wisdom

ken plumFolks back home where I grew up in Page County, Virginia were not known to have a lot to say about events. In fact, they were suspicious of people who talked too much. Someone who talked a lot about themselves was considered a braggart, and there was little need to talk about circumstances beyond ones’ control. As often is the case, people of few words can pack a lot of meaning into the words they do say. Some of the wisdom conveyed to me in simple words and phrases of the folksy sayings of my childhood came to mind during the recent legislative session.

I was always advised by my parents and others to “Never cut off your nose to spite your face.” That, however, is exactly what the General Assembly did this session. Over the last couple of years various reasons have been given for not expanding Medicaid to provide health care to the working poor. Some argued that expansion would add to the national debt, but as a self-funded program it does not. It was called too expensive even though Virginia taxpayer dollars that go to the federal government would have covered 100 percent of the cost in the first three years. It was called “Obamacare” as though the President having something to do with it somehow made it bad. The state Medicaid program was audited more than 60 times, and proposed reforms were adopted. The federal expansion would have freed up more than 150 million in state dollars that could have been used for other programs like the schools. The inaction of the General Assembly to close the coverage gap in health insurance has left more than three billion dollars on the table that could have come to Virginia and as many as 400,000 Virginians without health care. I believe that the old saying, “penny wise and pound foolish” might apply to the General Assembly in the future if it continues to refuse federal dollars for Medicaid when the 100 percent reimbursement becomes a 90-10 match. Likewise, the failure to invest regularly in infrastructure improvements will cost the state in the future. A greater investment in bridges is especially important. The Metro system that is critically important to Virginia commuters is another example of penny wise, pound foolish policies of the past. The recent unprecedented closing of Metro in order to identify safety concerns and the finding of a significant number of critical repairs that are needed show how far behind we are in investing in its maintenance.

“A stitch in time saves nine” is always good advice. I am pleased with the additional funding that the state is providing in early childhood education. Many studies prove the point that investing in children’s education early saves money in the future.

Society is more complex than it was in the years of my youth, but the wisdom of that time can still apply to understanding the challenges of today.

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