Augusta Free Press

Kirk Cox: Responsible state budget without Medicaid expansion

Last night the General Assembly completed its work on the 2014-16 state budget that excludes Medicaid expansion. We addressed Governor McAuliffe’s 8 line-item budget vetoes, to include two that were ruled unconstitutional.

Prior to consideration of the budget amendments, I stood before the House to detail philosophically and historically why expanding a broken Medicaid program is not good for the citizens of the Commonwealth. I also repudiated the mantra that the Republican Party is “The Party of No.” In my remarks I noted that most of the ideas and legislation that came before the General Assembly to include ethics reform, K12 education improvements, and increased higher education access and affordability and many others originated from our Caucus and were passed this session.

Of the Governor’s 8 vetoes, 2 were ruled unconstitutional by Speaker Howell. The first was an attempt by the Governor to veto language that unequivocally states he does not have authority to expand Medicaid unilaterally. He has also unconstitutionally attempted to veto funding for new judgeships. Regarding his rulings, the Speaker stated:

“The Governor’s vetoes of Item 301…and Item 468 L are unconstitutional and therefore not properly before the House. This is a decision consistent with rulings made by past Speakers and opinions issued by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

In multiple instances, the Supreme Court of Virginia has defined an item as “an indivisible sum of money dedicated to a stated purpose” and added that the Governor cannot veto conditions or restrictions without also vetoing the appropriation. The Court has also stated unequivocally that the Governor may not veto part of an item.”

Of the remaining 6 vetoes, one was overturned by the House and five others were not acted upon by the House, i.e. the veto remained.

The Governor vetoed funding for a new Ethics Advisory Commission. While the House overturned this veto, the Senate was unable to garner the 2/3rds vote necessary to override the veto. During the 2014 Session, the General Assembly passed this strong, bipartisan ethics reform package with a near unanimous vote and Governor McAuliffe signed the bill. Governor McAuliffe’s attempt to veto the bill he signed makes no sense.

The House supported Governor McAuliffe’s veto of language that would provide incentive money for chesterfield county to help run Petersburg City Schools. This amendment was originally included in the budget by the Senate. However, it was not requested by either locality and I did not support it.

The remaining 4 vetoes were not challenged in the House as there were Democrat votes in the Senate precluding the required 2/3 votes to override:

While Governor McAuliffe signed the budget on June 21st, he has stated he will try to circumvent the General Assembly and expand Medicaid unilaterally. The House is prepared to challenge this blatant overreach of executive authority through all available avenues, including the court system.

Even the press has taken issue with Governor McAuliffe’s threats to ignore our Constituion and expand Medicaid unilaterally. The Winchester Star & Daily News Record comments reflect the press views: “We don’t know who’s been advising the governor on his constitutional prerogatives, but even a cursory assessment of his stances, implied as well as spoken, on funding and judicial appointments suggests such counsel has been either misguided or flat-out wrong…Now that President Obama no longer considers himself bound by the Constitution he solemnly swore to uphold, Terry McAuliffe, by all indications, has swept away all such constraints as well.”

As the people’s House, we intend to stand firm to uphold Virginia’s Constitution and the rule of law. We do not believe the majority of Virginians want our Governor to follow President Obama’s lead.

Kirk Cox is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.