Steve Martin: Legislative update

state-capitol2The 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly entered the home stretch this week, as negotiations to iron-out differences between the House and Senate versions of the state’s biennial budget began. Of course, the budget isn’t the only legislation under consideration. There are still a few hundred bills on which action must be taken prior to the scheduled March 8 adjournment.

There has been much speculation this session that one major difference between the Senate’s version of the budget and the House’s will result in a deadlock on the state’s two-year spending plan. The Senate’s inclusion of Marketplace Virginia – its alternative to Medicaid expansion (which I voted against) – coupled with Governor McAuliffe’s insistence that he will not sign any budget that does not include provisions to fully implement the provisions of the “Affordable” Care Act, diminish the prospects for an agreement on the budget being reached before March 8/

Governor McAuliffe’s public comments have done little to dispel concerns. During his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio call-in program, McAuliffe said that he told budget conferees he expected a budget to be complete by July 1- the date that the current budget actually expires. His choice of focusing on that date instead of the scheduled March 8 deadline for completing a budget is not an encouraging sign; such a late adoption will create great problems for local governments as they try to get their budgets completed by July 1, as well.

Of course, this is not the first time Governor McAuliffe has indicated he would not approve a budget that doesn’t feature the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, although he recently updated that pledge to indicate his support for the Marketplace Virginia plan. During last year’s campaign, he made the same proclamation, telling a Democrat party dinner that he would not sign a budget if it did not include Medicaid expansion. Although a budget can become law without a Governor’s signature, his declarations indicate he does not intend to allow that to happen.

Making prospects even worse, Senate Democrats joined with McAuliffe to declare that they would not vote for a budget that failed to meet his demands. This is not the first time the budget has been held hostage to specific demands. In 2012, Senate Democrats employed the same tactic, successfully delaying the approval of a budget for nearly two months before one of their members, Chuck Colgan, crossed the aisle to join Republicans in approving a budget.

It is not unusual for governors to involve themselves to some extent in budget negotiations between the House and Senate. That involvement, however, is usually limited to encouraging negotiators to find common ground to reach an agreement. What Governor McAuliffe is doing is different.  By injecting specific demands and requirements into the negotiations, and by getting Senate Democrats to reprise their 2012 tactic, the prospects for an agreement being reached by March 8th are greatly diminished.


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