Senate Democrats insisted on a link between the transportation plan and Medicaid expansion, exacting a promise from McDonnell (R) that he would not undercut a deal meant to expand the federal health program for the poor. The Senate was waiting for McDonnell to put that in writing when it adjourned.
On Saturday, the last day of the scheduled legislative session, the Senate is expected to vote on the transportation funding plan. If it passes, it would become the state’s first comprehensive road and rail plan in a generation.
In a statement Friday evening, the governor commended the Senate’s progress on Medicaid. But he also said he reserved the right to review what House and Senate conferees come up with on an expansion plan when the budget is adopted.
A spokesman for McDonnell said Medicaid expansion and transportation remain separate issues. Still, several senators said the governor had agreed Thursday night to go along with the Medicaid compromise to pave the way for the transportation bill.
Throughout the session, Democrats have demanded that Virginia move to quickly expand Medicaid as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. But Republicans, more wary of the program, have said the state should first wring reforms from Washington before expanding the program.
On the eve of Friday’s vote, some Democrats in the House had also threatened to condition their support for the transportation bill on Medicaid expansion, but the subject seemed to vanish as the House debate began. The House vote was 60 to 40, with Republicans and Democrats joining ranks to pass it.
“We have a choice today. We can do something, or we can do nothing,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax).
At its center, the transportation measure would substantially cut the fuels tax but raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and allocate a portion of existing revenue to roads. It would also raise funds for regional authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and empower them to spend the money only on transportation in those areas.
The plan also would loosen the tie between fuel consumption and tax revenue to pay for roads, and it would provide more money from sales taxes — which also fund schools, law enforcement and other services — toward roads.
The compromise forced Republicans to agree to higher taxes while requiring Democrats to change their opposition to diverting additional funds raised by sales taxes, known as the general fund, to roads.
Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), a chief architect of the compromise, thanked the governor for starting the process, and he thanked several Democrats, including Del. Vivian E. Watts of Fairfax, a former transportation secretary, for working out the nitty-gritty details. Jones urged members to vote for the bill, saying that any pact forces people on each side of a conflict to accept something they might not like but that both sides need.