WHEN STATE governments shut down, people notice that something is badly amiss, possibly even more so than when the federal government closes. In Virginia, where Republicans in the House of Delegates have dug in their heels against Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to expand Medicaid, the possibility of a shutdown this summer is growing, and the experience in other states is not exactly heartening.
In Michigan, where the government closed for just four hours one morning in 2007, tens of thousands of public employees were temporarily laid off, including most state troopers. Rest stops on highways were barricaded; drawbridges were left up; traffic cameras were shut off. Anticipating that motor vehicle offices would be closed, people jammed them before the shutdown, hoping to renew their driver’s licenses and receive other basic services.
In Minnesota, where the government closed for three weeks in 2011, the state lost millions of dollars, including income from lottery sales, tax audits and various fees. Driver’s license exams were suspended, state parks were shut and road projects were abandoned.
In Tennessee, where the government went dark for a few days in 2002, half the state’s 42,000 employees were furloughed without pay as politicians haggled over competing proposals — oneknown as CATS (Continued Adequate Taxes and Services) that would have raised taxes and one known as DOGS (Downsizing Ongoing Government Services) that would have cut spending.
Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat who promised in his campaign to expand Medicaid, said he has the tools to prod Virginia Republicans to make a deal. So far, though, there’s no sign that he’s using them — or even what they might be. Judging from the available public evidence, he seems long on determination but short on strategies.
He might start by describing to Virginians the paralysis and hardships that are likely to befall the state if Republicans continue to refuse any semblance of compromise and the government shuts down. As in other states, Virginia probably would conjure a way to maintain essential services, such as prisons and mental health institutions, but most of the state’s public employees, more than 100,000 of them, probably would be furloughed, and a wide array of functions used by residents would grind to a halt.
Republicans say they have insisted on their stance because they don’t believe the federal government will make good on its promise to continue to pay for the vast bulk of Medicaid expansion, which would cover as many as 400,000 needy Virginians. Yet they have refused to consider expanding Medicaid on a trial basis for a couple of years, leaving an out if the feds were to renege on their commitment. Meanwhile, the GOP has proposed no remotely realistic alternative for providing the coverage that Medicaid would furnish.
It’s time for Republicans to negotiate in good faith. A shutdown would mean real hardship for real people. It must be avoided.