Session Preview: Virginia’s new beginnings


Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe at his victory party in Tysons Corner, Va., on Nov. 6 (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

When Terry McAuliffe is sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor this weekend, he’ll already be behind. That’s because the state’s General Assembly will begin its 60-day legislative session Wednesday.

McAuliffe faces other challenges: He’ll be one of just a handful of governors whose party doesn’t control the state legislature, and his top policy priority, expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover 400,000 low-income Virginians, will be a tough sell among Republicans.

The Post’s Laura Vozzella previews Virginia’s legislative session, and the relationships between McAuliffe and the legislators he’ll have to work with this year:

McAuliffe has spent hours with outgoing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell going over the two-year, $96 billion budget plan that the Republican will leave behind for his successor and the legislature to amend as they see fit.

One of McAuliffe’s main policy goals, expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, faces fierce opposition from House Republicans. McAuliffe said the expansion would provide 400,000 Virginians with health-care coverage and pump $5 million a day into the state’s economy. The federal government has promised to pay the full cost initially and 90 percent after that. Republicans doubt that Washington can afford to make good on that deal.

Other priorities include expanding and diversifying the economy, reforming school standardized tests and tightening lax ethics laws .

Republicans say they share some of his goals, particularly when it comes to job creation and ethics reform, an issue brought into focus by a gifts scandal that has consumed McDonnell’s last year in office.

“We have met and talked about areas where we have common interests, common ground,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who remains opposed to expanding Medicaid and pre-kindergarten programs. “We’re all kind of waiting to see what his agenda is and what he’s got. And where we can, we’ll work with him. And where we can’t, we won’t.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s John Reid Blackwell adds his take on a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, which will have a tough time in the Republican-led House; bills to deal with sales of electronic cigarettes; and pushes to expand education and workforce development:

Business interests are planning to push for education and workforce development changes that would put more emphasis on jobs related to science, technology, engineering and health care.

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce said it will back legislation to promote more private sector involvement in public education in those fields of study, similar to a program at Northern Virginia Community College that seeks out business partners to promote science and technology training for students as early as elementary school.

The state chamber also wants to see expanded funding for broadband investment projects in the state, as well as expanded economic incentives for investment in new businesses, such as an angel investment tax credit and a research and development tax credit.

It also is supporting changes to and expansion of Medicaid.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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