RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Top Republican lawmakers in Virginia unveiled a new budget proposal Monday that will expand Medicaid, give state workers raises and boost the state’s rainy-day fund.
Sen. Emmett Hanger and Del. Chris Jones said they’d hammered out a compromise spending plan they hope will have the support of a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.
The plan will face its first big hurdle Tuesday when the Senate reconvenes. Republican Senate leaders oppose Medicaid expansion and could try to block the proposed spending plan.
Republicans are currently split on whether to expand Medicaid after years of near-unified opposition, a disagreement that’s led to a lengthy stalemate on the state budget.
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Democrats have pushed for years to expand Medicaid, saying Virginia should not pass up the roughly $2 billion in extra federal funding the program will bring to the state. Opponents say the long-term costs are unsustainable.
A federal-state collaboration originally meant for poor families and severely disabled people, Medicaid has grown to become the largest government health insurance program, now covering 1 in 5 people. Under former President Barack Obama’s health law, states got the option of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.
A GOP-led Congress’ failure to repeal and replace the health law, as well as unexpectedly large gains by Democrats in last year’s election, helped spur several state Republicans to flip positions. Virginia was the first state to see its state legislature reshaped by an anti-Trump wave.
Hanger and Jones’ plan is similar to a budget proposed passed by the House earlier this year.
It proposes putting any greater-than-expected revenues into the state’s rainy-day fund, with a goal of saving near $1 billion in the next two years. Bond rating agencies have raised concerns about Virginia’s low levels of reserves.
State workers would get a 2 percent across-the-board raise, and a 2 percent merit-pay increase. Teachers would get a 3 percent increase.
The plan also includes a new tax on hospitals to pay the state’s share of Medicaid expansion, something Hanger had previously expressed reservations about.
The Senate Finance Committee would have to approve Hanger and Jones’ proposal under normal legislative procedures. But it’s unclear if there are enough votes to get it out of committee. Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the Republican Senate Caucus, said senators will review the plan, “but for the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans, Obamacare expansion remains a failed idea.”
Hanger and Democrats could team up to bypass the committee and force a full floor vote to get the budget approved, a dramatic departure from legislative norms that Hanger said he hopes isn’t necessary.
“I’m always the optimist,” he said.
State government will shut down July 1 if no budget is passed.