Virginia finally has an approved state budget, just in time for the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
However, it appears that the wrangling and maneuvering around the issue of expanding the state’s Medicaid program will continue on.
After a months-long stalemate between the House of Delegates and the Senate, the General Assembly passed a budget June 12 that not only did not include the Medicaid expansion but also incorporated language aimed at preventing the governor from expanding Medicaid without General Assembly action.
At issue is the potential expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income adults using an influx of federal cash provided under the Affordable Care Act. An estimated 400,000 Virginians would be eligible for Medicaid if eligibility was expanded to the level suggested by the ACA.
When he returned the budget to the General Assembly this week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) tried to veto the language that would tie his hands.
House Speaker William Howell (R-Dist. 28) ruled that the veto was not allowed under the state constitution because there was no actual funding tied to it. Therefore, the veto was removed without a vote of the legislature.
During a press briefing Wednesday, the House Republican leadership indicated that they will continue to fight any efforts by McAuliffe to work around the legislature and expand Medicaid.
They hired the law firm of former solicitor general Paul Clement to analyze state and federal law and assert that there is no legal way for McAuliffe to expand Medicaid on his own.
“It is nothing less than an executive power grab,” Howell said. “We are prepared to challenge the governor through all available avenues should he go that route.
Some Democrats have suggested that the governor could form a public-private partnership to accept the federal funds, a power that legislators granted to former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) for transportation projects.
McAuliffe has not indicated what he plans to do, but said in a statement June 20, prior to Howell’s action, that he was not giving up the fight. He said he would ask Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel to develop a plan for expanding health care coverage.
“Secretary Hazel will have a plan on my desk by no later than Sept. 1 detailing how we can move Virginia health care forward even in the face of the demagoguery, lies, fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for too long,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe also exercised several other vetoes, which were upheld. One eliminated funding for the Virginia Conflicts of Interest Advisory Commission, which was part of the ethics reform package the General Assembly passed earlier this year. The governor said that he intends to introduce stronger ethics legislation in next year’s session, therefore making it inefficient to begin implementing new bureaucracy now.