By the time the General Assembly passed its much-amended version of McDonnell’s transportation overhaul Saturday, it included a contingency: If the federal legislation does not pass by January 2015, retail taxes on gas would rise 1.7 percentage points to make up for the lost revenue.
But there was another, little-noticed sweetener for Democrats — one that bets against passage of the Marketplace Equity Act as heavily as McDonnell bet on it.
Under a provision wrangled out of fellow transportation conferees by Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), the amount of general fund revenue directed to transportation would fall from nearly $200 million a year to $60 million a year if the Marketplace Equity Act doesn’t pass.
Democrats have long opposed paying for transportation from that fund, which bankrolls services such as schools, health care and public safety.
Howell and other Democrats were celebrating that victory Saturday, along with their ability to get language inserted into the budget intended to make it easier to expand Medicaid if certain conditions are met.
Democrats had threatened to hold up passage of the transportation deal, which McDonnell very much wanted, if he did not provide a written pledge that he agreed with the broad outlines of the Medicaid language.
McDonnell provided the statement, though his office insisted that the two issues were never linked.
At a news conference right after adjournment, Howell said the Senate Democrats had stuck together to shape the outcome of “two of the most important policies implemented in Virginia in decades.”
Republicans, however, suggested that the Medicaid language included in a package of budget amendments could actually make it harder to expand the program.
Earlier in the week, House and Senate budget negotiators had reached a deal on Medicaid. It called for allowing a commission with 10 legislators — five from the House, five from the Senate — to authorize expansion of the federal health-care program for the poor, elderly and disabled if Washington allowed Virginia to reform the way the program is run in the state.
It was a compromise between the House position, which would have required the entire General Assembly to approve expansion, and the Senate’s, which would have allowed state health officials to do so. That appeared to smooth the way for passage of the budget amendments and transportation on Saturday, the last day of session. But early Saturday, a legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) began circulating, saying the commission was unconstitutional.