One of the most frequently asked questions of me this time of year is, “What will the General Assembly be doing when it meets?” The question is understandable with the regular session of the legislature scheduled to begin on January 14, 2015. The answer is not simple, however, even at this late date. There is unfinished business left over from previous sessions, hot issues that have come to our attention, and recent events that warrant the legislature’s response.
Although the General Assembly passes a two-year budget in the even-numbered years, there are always adjustments that must be made in the odd-numbered years. In stable economic times, these adjustments can be fairly technical and minor. In recent years with the uncertainty in the economy, adjustments can be major. That’s the way it will be this session. Already $1.5 billion has been reduced in the budget passed for this biennium, and additional reductions exceeding $300 million must be made to keep the budget in balance. Since this will constitute a second round of budget reductions, the choices are not clear or easy. Higher education will likely get a second round of cuts with higher tuitions being available to make up the difference. There seems to be agreement not to reduce state aid to schools which is very important since schools are already funded by the state at a level below 2007. With all 140 members of the House and Senate up for re-election in November, 2015, you can be sure that there will be no discussion of revenue enhancements.
An issue that the Republican majority will try to keep in the background is the expansion of Medicaid that under the Affordable Care Act would provide health insurance coverage for nearly 400,000 of the working poor in the state. The Tea Party wing of the Party vehemently opposes the expansion. Ironically, expansion of Medicaid would provide about $200 million in federal monies to supplant state monies and help reduce the budget deficit by two-thirds. Moderate Republicans in gerrymandered districts who fear a primary challenge from the right more than a general election opponent will not want to deal with Medicaid expansion. It is too important to delay further. I will continue pushing for expansion.
The ethical lapses under former Governor McDonnell resulted in some tightening of disclosure and ethics laws, but more recent events require the General Assembly to do more work on this issue. There is some competition between the parties as to who wants to be the toughest. Other breaking news stories like the rape and sexual assault reports at the University of Virginia will result in some legislation to address a concern that has been ignored too long. Headlines not yet written may well add other issues to the 2015 agenda of the General Assembly. One thing is clear: the agenda will be full. There is much work to be done.
Please share your views on the upcoming legislative session with me on my constituent survey that can be completed online at www.kenplum.com.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.