Va. barrels into special session after budget impasse

RICHMOND — After 59 days of the 60-day session left Virginia with a multi-million dollar standoff over Medicaid expansion, the General Assembly voted unanimously Friday to request a special session to deal with the two-year state budget.

A special session could provide a budget deal over the coming weeks, with action restricted only to budget-related bills and ceremonial resolutions, House and Senate leaders said

“I think it is imperative that we move forward to make progress on finding a resolution to this budget impasse which, in round numbers, is about $843 million apart,” Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment said.

The gap in funding — and the raises and other priorities funded in the House plan but not the Senate version — is due to House Republican support for Medicaid expansion after years of opposition. Senate Republican leaders oppose the plan, which also includes a work requirement for some recipients.

The special session would start from a new budget bill that would go through normal committee hearings. That bill would likely be very similar to the budget submitted to the current session by Gov. Terry McAuliffe before he left office, since new Gov. Ralph Northam endorsed that budget.

The special session could still lead to the same House and Senate conferees having to sit down and work out a deal, but would first provide another opportunity for floor votes on budget amendments in each body.

Democrats would need to flip two Republican votes in the Senate to pass Medicaid expansion.

In a statement, House Speaker Kirk Cox said going home for a few days after Saturday’s adjournment could let tensions cool and help fuel a deal later.

While the regular General Assembly session ends Saturday, the threat of the state’s first government shutdown does not come into play until the end of the budget year on June 30.

“We are all committed to completing work on a state budget long before July 1, but after a lengthy and tiring session, the best step is for everyone to return home as we assess our next steps,” Cox said.

While an exact schedule is unclear, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said Friday afternoon he expected it to be in the realm of weeks rather than months.

“This is unfortunately where we are, and we have to move forward with the resolution so we can try to get a ballot out eventually,” House Minority Leader David Toscano said.

The General Assembly is already scheduled to reconvene April 18 for what is usually a one-day session to handle amendments offered by the governor and any bills he may have vetoed.

Dominion Bill

Gov. Ralph Northam Friday signed a highly controversial Dominion power rate bill into law.

Since the bill was passed last week and the General Assembly was still in session, Friday was the deadline for Northam to act.

The bill sets out a refund for rate-payers, but continues to restrict State Corporation Commission rate reviews for several years and also allows Dominion to invest excess profits in the grid rather than returning them to rate-payers.

Supporters of the bill believe it could help with planned power system upgrades. Opponents argued it was a handout to the power monopoly.

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