The 2013 Session of the General Assembly is rapidly winding down. This past week saw the crossover, when each side completes work on its own bills, and passage of the House and Senate budgets. We also saw an end to the redistricting conflict that has embroiled the Senate for the past three weeks.
On Wednesday, the 6th of February, the Speaker of the House ruled the redistricting amendments not germane to the House Bill to which they were attached. What this means is the amendments dramatically redrawing the Senate lines were not sufficiently related to the purpose of the original bill, which only made technical adjustments to House districts. The requirement that amendments be related to the original legislation ensures a more orderly process for considering legislation. I have known Bill Howell, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, for 22 years. He and I have often disagreed on policy, but I also know him to be a man of integrity. His ruling was entirely consistent with his past actions as Speaker.
While I am hopeful the Speaker’s ruling will allow us to use the last couple of weeks of the session to work constructively toward solutions to Virginia’s problems, I am not confident everyone feels that way. After hearing of the Speaker’s ruling, the Senate Republican Leader, Senator Tommy Norment of James City County, expressed disappointment and indicated he was confident that the 2015 elections would be held in the districts proposed in January. That sort of rhetoric indicates that redistricting remains unsettled. For what it’s worth, I am going to focus for the next two weeks on trying to find common ground on the many issues that face Virginia.
This past week also saw much discussion surrounding transportation. The General Assembly cannot continue to delay action on transportation, and I feel we are close to adopting a plan to meet our long-term transportation needs this year. The House passed a version of the Governor’s transportation plan, which was rejected in the Senate. Over the next the couple of weeks we have to develop a compromise.
Democrats have balked at the Governor’s plan for raiding the general fund of upwards of $200 million a year and for replacing the gasoline tax with a sales tax increase. Some Republicans have opposed any sort of tax increase for transportation. If we are going to be realistic about reaching consensus, both sides will have to give a little. For example, I think the Democrats may consider using general fund dollars for transit and for rail. After all, those forms of transportation are designed to transport a great number of people and have not seen a steady source of funding over the years.
I think we can also develop compromise around a number of proposals made by Senators Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and John Watkins of Powhatan County. Sen. Wagner proposed scrapping the gas tax for an increase on the wholesale tax at the rack. The Governor’s proposal is dependent on the federal government passing an internet sales tax, which has been defeated twice before. Sen. Wagner’s plan would call for a larger wholesale tax in the event the federal legislation is defeated. Senator Watkins has made similar suggestions. Each of the proposals has components around which consensus can develop.
On the 7th of February, both houses passed versions of the budget. I voted for the Senate proposed budget, which passed 35-5. Medicaid expansion is the major point of contention between the House and Senate budgets.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion is significant. The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Act last year left to the states the determination whether to expand Medicaid. If we expand Medicaid, the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost over the next three years and 90-95 percent for the subsequent three years. The investment amounts to about $5 million a day. For every $1.76 the federal government invests in Medicaid expansion in Virginia, we have to invest about a penny. This expansion will add coverage to an additional 200,000 to 400,000 Virginians and create in excess of 30,000 new jobs in the Commonwealth.
The Senate’s approach makes a number of reforms that allow us to measure the performance of the expansion and build accountability into the program. Assuming those reforms can be made, we will establish a trust fund for the money we expect to save. The fund will buffer future costs we may incur. Medicaid expansion is a good deal for Virginia.
It continues to be a high honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I can answer any questions or be of service in these last two weeks, please contact me. I can be reached at [email protected] or (804) 698-7525.