Richmond Free Press and New Kent Charles City Chronicle: General Assembly Update #7

Last week the House and Senate adopted their amendments to the 2018 - 2020 biennial budget introduced by Governor McAuliffe on December 18, 2017.  The two budgets are about $600 million apart.  The key difference between the two budgets is Medicaid expansion.  The House budget extends health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it by expanding Medicaid and accepting more than $3 billion in federal funding to do so.  The House budget also directs the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) to apply to the federal government for a waiver that imposes work requirements for certain Medicaid recipients. 

Unfortunately, the Senate budget does not include Medicaid expansion.  As a result, the Senate budget also cuts over $400 million from the introduced budget.  Specifically, the budget eliminates $49.4 million from the introduced budget to provide a two percent base salary increase for state employees and state supported local employees. 

 In the area of Education, the Senate budget:

  • Eliminates $51.3 million in funding for the state share of a 2 percent salary increase for teachers and other school positions effective December 1, 2019;
  • Eliminates $1 million in additional funding for positive behavior intervention and support services to help school divisions better address behavioral issues without resorting to suspension;
  • Eliminates $7.7 million in funding to ensure that every elementary school has one full-time principal starting in fiscal year 2020; 
  • Eliminates $100,000 in new funding proposed for Praxis assistance for teachers to subsidize test  fees and the cost of tutoring provisionally licensed teachers in order to address the teacher shortage;
  • Uses lottery fund estimates to decrease general fund support for public education (known as “supplanting”) by a total of $97.9 million; and 
  • Reduces by half ($22.8 million) funding provided in the introduced budget increasing need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduate students.

In the area of mental health, the Senate budget reverses important steps made by the general Assembly last year to address the Commonwealth’s mental health needs by:

  • Eliminating $4.5 million in funding contained in the introduced budget for an initiative to fund two assisted living facilities and associated support teams to help address the capacity issues facing state mental health facilities; and
  • Reducing by $7.5 million funding provided in the introduced budget for primary care outpatient screening services for at Community Service Boards.

These cuts represent just a few of the missed opportunities resulting from the Senate’s failure to use federal funding to address our Medicaid needs, freeing up our General fund to address these and other important budget priorities.  For these reasons, I voted no on the Senate budget.  I am hopeful that over the next two weeks the budget conferences can find a way to bridge both the $600 million gap between their budgets and the insurance gap facing so many Virginians and their families.