Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 9

The General Assembly is set to adjourn tomorrow, but it unfortunately looks like we will do so without finishing the state budget.

 

As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, on February 20th we passed the 2014-2016 House budget with a bipartisan vote of 74-25. This budget takes a “savings first” approach and provides funding for many critical areas to include $48 million for mental health services; $530.9 million for public education; $210 million to higher education; and includes millions to fully fund our Virginia Retirement System (VRS) obligations by 2016, three years earlier than required.

 

At this time the House and Senate budget proposals are very close. The bottom lines are separated by one-tenth of one percent, a difference that could be easily closed if Senate budget conferees would come to the table to seriously negotiate.

 

Unfortunately, however, our conferees have consistently encountered a slow, unresponsive attitude from Senate Democrats.  At this critical time Governor McAuliffe has traveled around Virginia grandstanding for one political issue rather than work with us to negotiate the differences in the budget.

 

By failing to pass a budget, we are ignoring the fact that numerous entities around the state need Virginia’s budget passed long before July 1, the deadline before a potential government shutdown.  Local governments, state agencies, our colleges and universities, school boards, and many businesses that contract with the state look to the state budget for guidance as they prepare their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.  They cannot wait until July. They need to know now how much they can count on from the state in order to set their own budgets.  

 

Without a budget College Boards of Visitors, who depend on the state budget as they work this spring to set tuition rates for the next year, will be forced to prepare for a worst case scenario. This could result in double digit tuition increases that our students and families cannot afford.

 

Our local school divisions will be forced to rethink teacher position openings, renewed contracts, new school supplies, employee healthcare plans, and expanded extracurricular activities if they don’t have a State budget to work from.  

 

Local governments are relying on state funding for road maintenance, payments to VRS, and new Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

 

Every day that we delay, we are causing more uncertainty for these and many other citizens that are depending on the state to pass a budget well before the July 1 deadline.   

 

House Republican Leadership has called for a special session after we pass the budget to debate the issues of Medicaid expansion on its merits. This will ensure funding for our teachers, schools, firefighters, police officers and local governments are not used as leverage to implement Medicaid expansion.

 

The Senate Medicaid expansion proposal is language only.  It has no impact on our state budget, appropriates no funds, and generates no budget savings.  Therefore it could easily be separated from the budget, and the Governor has the authority to call a special session to ensure that we act on it.  

 

This is an issue that many Virginians have strong feelings about on both sides.  Though I do not support Medicaid expansion, I recognize that a number of Virginians, including Governor McAuliffe, do.  For that reason I believe it is important that we continue this debate.  I do not think we should do so, however, at the expense of those citizens who desperately need us to pass a clean budget now.     

 

There is historical precedent for this.  On numerous occasions in the past we have removed key issues from the budget to be dealt with during a special session to avoid a budget impasse.  Governor George Allen called a special session in 1994 on parole reform. Governor Jim Gilmore called a special session in 1998 on car-tax relief. Governor Tim Kaine called a special session in 2006 on transportation.  

 

A special session would have several benefits. The most obvious benefit would be that postponing the Medicaid debate to a special session would allow us to avoid a shutdown and finish budget negotiations on proposals that are currently already 99.9% in agreement.  It would also allow legislators time to go home and talk to constituents about this critical issue.  Finally, it would allow those in favor of Medicaid expansion to craft meaningful legislation that can stand alone and be considered on its merits.

 

Virginia is 1 of 12 states with an AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies. Last year we were named the best state for doing business by Forbes magazine. We did not earn these accolades by using our budget as a political tool.

 

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a statement this week that supports the House Republican call for a special session. They cited the serious implications budget uncertainty could have for the Commonwealth’s business community. Investment decisions and business relocations could be discouraged and Virginia’s reputation as the nation’s best state for business could be discredited.

 

I truly hope the Governor and the Senate will stop holding up the budget over a partisan, political issue; an act that is contrary to Virginia tradition. We should pass a clean budget on time and hold a special session on Medicaid expansion.

 

This Session we have advanced bipartisan legislation that helps our veterans, our teachers, our children, our roads, and those who are most vulnerable. We owe it to these citizens to pass our budget on time.

 

Sign the Petition

 

Virginia’s budget is not a bargaining chip.  Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid Expansion, holding hostage funding for our schools, teachers, police officers, firefighters and local governments is wrong.  

 

If you agree with me, please let Governor McAuliffe know.  You can do so by signing this petition asking Governor McAuliffe to pass a clean budget.  

 

Contact

Thank you so much to those of you who have visited us in Richmond, and also to those of you who have called, written, and emailed us over the last few weeks.  We are still in the process of responding to all of our emails, and we appreciate your patience.

As the regular session draws to a close, we will once again be operating out of the district.  You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999.

Throughout the interim, please be aware that our Richmond office is closed.  Though we try to routinely monitor the voicemails in our Richmond office, we ask that for the quickest response that you please call our district phone number.  

You can also continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov, and by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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