We have a budget!
Late last night, I joined 68 other members of the House of Delegates to vote for a budget that addresses our state's $1.5 billion revenue shortfall and does not include Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. We were joined by 21 Senators to insure that the state's core functions continue.
This budget closes the $1.5 billion revenue shortfall but we had to make difficult decisions to cut spending compared to the original budget and ended up using some of the state's rainy day fund. We simply cannot spend money we don't have and unfortunately, we had to eliminate teacher pay raises and new funding for higher education. The bright side to this is that we were able to keep over $300 million in new classroom funding for K-12 education, about $50 million in new funding for mental health reforms and investments in our state employee retirement system.
At no point did the budget include language that would have allowed the Governor to expand Medicaid without the approval of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission. However, because reports have suggested that Governor McAuliffe may try to do so, the General Assembly has added an additional, clarifying section that unequivocally prohibits the expansion of Medicaid without the approval of the legislature.
Once the budget is signed, we can return to Richmond to debate Medicaid expansion and what it will mean for Virginia. Medicaid now costs the state about $4.1 billion per year - about 20% of our general fund spending. It is growing at an average rate of 8 percent per year. This year alone it grew by over $500 million. I have expressed deep concerns about Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Our current program is unsustainable and needs reform; Virginia cannot afford the long-term costs; we cannot trust the federal government to pay for Medicaid expansion forever; and Medicaid expansion is essentially a new welfare entitlement program for able-bodied, working adults. I will, however, engage in a full and fair debate on the issue
In conclusion, I am relieved that local governments can now finalize their budgets and that we have an opportunity to debate the very complicated and complex issue of Medicaid expansion separately.