Richmond Report: New Fiscal Year
Today is July 1, which is the day in Virginia when all new laws that passed during this year's General Assembly session go into effect.
Among the changes that you may have heard about is the repeal of the $64 annual surcharge tax for owners of hybrid vehicles that was imposed last year, reduction of the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that kids in grades 3 through 8 would have to take, and a tougher set of ethics rules to govern legislators.
I'm pleased to note that three of my bills will become law beginning today, including a new crime for anyone who uses software or electronic device to cheat on sales taxes, changes to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to require government agencies to provide more helpful information to the public, and a more consistent way to handle absentee ballots during election times.
In addition to these legislative actions, today begins a new fiscal year in Virginia, with a new two-year budget in place.
You might recall from my last email (sent many weeks ago!) that our regular legislative session adjourned in March of this year without a budget in place.
For over three months since then, your state government faced a stand-off between Governor McAuliffe, Democrats in the House and a group of bipartisan Senators on one side, and the House Republicans and other Republican Senators on the other side.
You may also recall from my previous emails as well as from following the news that the main reason for this political gridlock was over the issue of Medicaid expansion.
The Governor and I insisted on including in the budget a provision that would allow out state to accept federal funding to allow for as many as 400,000 vulnerable working Virginians who can't afford to purchase healthcare insurance to be able to do so.
Most Republicans, however, were strongly opposed to expanding Medicaid in Virginia as a way to provide these working poor with healthcare coverage. Instead, the Republicans insisted on removing the Medicaid language from the budget in exchange for holding another special session this year to address the urgent healthcare issue.
Well, the impasse ended last week when the legislature reconvened in Richmond. The budget passed without the Medicaid language that I fought for, and the Governor's line-item veto to keep the issue alive was ruled out of order by the House Speaker.
So how did we go from such a long drawn-out partisan confrontation with no negotiations to an overnight resolution of this thorny issue? A series of extraordinary circumstances forced the proponents of Medicaid expansion into an untenable situation while facing a looming deadline.
I won't go into all of the details here as you probably were following the news, but there were two major and unexpected circumstances that materialized in early June:
--A new economic forecast indicated that our state would be receiving a much lower-than-anticipated stream of tax revenues which could result in over a $1.5 billion shortfall.
--But even more dramatic was the sudden resignation of a Democratic Senator which led to the State Senate flipping from Democratic control to Republican Majority.
In a later communication, once more facts are revealed, I will gladly share my thoughts on the Senator's resignation and the allegations of potential quid-pro-quo that are being investigated by federal authorities.
For now, let me cut to the chase: due to these unforeseen circumstances, my side of the Medicaid debate lost this round, and our state won't be able to provide healthcare to these 400,000 Virginians at any time soon.
I am deeply disappointed with this result. But I am hopeful that the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate will work with us to come up with a workable solution to helping our most vulnerable citizens afford the healthcare they need. I stand ready and willing to go back to Richmond to complete this important business.