Va. Senate set to back budget with Medicaid expansion, despite opponents’ maneuvers

WASHINGTON – The Virginia Senate is set to pass a $115 billion, two-year budget Wednesday that includes Medicaid expansion, but only after some significant drama Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee.

A budget deal negotiated between Senate Finance Co-Chair Emmett Hanger and House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, both Republicans, was voted down in the committee 9 to 7, but is expected to be reintroduced on the Senate floor for final passage.

Sen. Frank Wagner joined Hanger to support the deal in committee, which would give it at least the 21 votes needed to pass.

“We’re still deeply divided. Quite frankly, I don’t feel like a winner today,” Hanger said.

The committee sent a bill to the Senate floor on a 10-to-5 vote (Hanger abstaining) that is largely the same as the one approved by the Senate during this winter’s regular session. A standoff between the House and Senate over Medicaid expansion prevented any budget deal from being reached then, and led to this special session.

Sen. Majority Leader Tommy Norment acknowledged, though, that Medicaid expansion is likely to pass.

The General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam have until 11:59 p.m. on June 30 to get a budget bill passed and signed into law to avoid a state government shutdown.

The House of Delegates plans to meet Wednesday afternoon to take up any bill passed by the Senate. The House could either give final approval to the bill, or make procedural moves required to form a conference committee to hammer out final details in any areas where there are differences between the House and Senate.

Norment suggested the Senate could require several breaks Wednesday to actually get a bill through to the House.

While the House passed its budget in the special session in mid-April, Tuesday afternoon’s vote in the Senate finance committee was the first formal action the Senate has taken since the start of the special session on April 11.

Political maneuvering or shenanigans?

In a move that even led Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw, the minority leader, to exclaim “holy cow,” Norment nearly threw up another roadblock to the Medicaid expansion deal Tuesday afternoon.

Norment attempted to get the Finance Committee to vote for a second time on Hanger’s amendments, which could have allowed him to argue on the Senate floor that the amendments were no longer proper.

Norment declined to explain to Saslaw or Hanger why he made the motion to reconsider.

“We don’t question the intent or the motives of parties either in committee or on the floor,” Norment said in a tacit acknowledgement it was a procedural game.

Saslaw and Hanger caught on a little too late, and seemed worried until several members of the committee who support Medicaid expansion found a way out: The motion to reconsider came after the committee had already backed Norment’s own amendments to the budget bill and formally reported it to the Senate floor.

“Sen. Norment, I would rule your attempts at – out of order,” Hanger said, before abruptly banging the gavel to adjourn the committee.

Norment had a shocked look as Hanger left the chairman’s seat.

Expected Medicaid expansion, budget deal

The deal Hanger plans to introduce as a substitute on the Senate floor includes 3 percent pay raises for teachers in the second year of the budget and other salary increases for state or state-supported workers, although some will see much of the increase go toward required benefits contributions or premiums.

It also includes a work requirement for people who would be newly covered by Medicaid expansion starting in January 2019, and a fee for hospitals that will largely be returned to them through increased reimbursements for care.

Private hospitals and smaller public hospitals will see the largest financial gains from the changes, while large teaching hospitals are expected to see a shift in funding sources that would help the state’s budget for the next two years.

The budget deal also includes more money for judicial positions, an increase in vehicle titling fees to raise $13 million for the Department of Motor Vehicles, other support for the state’s steps toward federal REAL ID compliance, and authorization for more than $300 million in bonds for the Port of Virginia.

Editor’s note: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam joins WTOP live at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 30 to take your calls and questions.

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