RICHMOND — Virginia’s House and Senate on Thursday passed separate but similar budget bills, both of which reject Medicaid expansion, provide raises to state employees and plow more money into universities and the state’s rainy-day fund.
With one hot-button exception, the budget proposals emerged from both chambers unchanged from what House and Senate budget committees approved on Sunday. There were several attempts to amend the plans on the House and Senate floors Thursday, but only one, an anti-abortion measure, succeeded.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) convinced the GOP-dominated House to add language intended to block Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) from softening regulations on abortion clinics. Similar abortion restrictions have died in the Senate in past years; additionally, if the measure survives, McAuliffe would have the power to kill it with a line-item veto.
The closely divided Senate made no changes to what its Finance Committee had approved over the weekend.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) had wanted to reject plans to require more retailers to pay their sales taxes a month early. But the Senate went along with McAuliffe’s plan to impose the “accelerated sales tax” on businesses with annual sales over $2.5 million. Currently, only those with more than $26 million in sales must pay early. The House version applies the tax to those making above $3.5 million.
The Senate did not even debate, much less approve, expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, something McAuliffe included in his budget plan. A slim majority of what had been an evenly divided Senate supported a form of expansion last year. But with Republicans enjoying a 21-19 majority this year, and two Democrats currently absent for medical reasons, expansion had no chance in the upper chamber.
Democrats could not even muster the votes to block a GOP motion to cut off debate on Medicaid before it began. Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) complained bitterly afterward that a vital policy debate had been thwarted even while Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-Buckingham) had been allowed to deliver “a seven-minute soliloquy on yurts.”
Garrett had questioned whether the state was getting a good deal on the $1.5 million it planned to spend on camping shelters for state parks.
Senate Democrats nevertheless rallied behind the budget package when it came to a final vote, joining Republicans to pass it 38-0.
“I have never seen a time when we took a budget vote and every single vote was green,” said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier).
The House and Senate budgets now cross to the other chamber. Differences between the bills will eventually be hashed out by a conference committee.
Among the points that will have to be reconciled: The Senate approved McAuliffe’s “Healthy Virginia” health-care program to provide psychiatric and broader health care to 20,000 mentally ill Virginians. The House has a rival plan that provides psychiatric and pharmaceutical benefits to 30,000 mentally ill people but not general health care.
The Senate sets aside an extra $134 million for the state’s rainy-day fund, while the House proposes about $100 million. McAuliffe does not provide any extra payments to the fund.
The House passed its budget 81 to 18. Democratic Caucus Chairman Scott A. Surovell (Fairfax) said the plan did not include enough money for pre-kindergarten programs, teacher raises or health care for the mentally ill. Democrats also object to tax credits for coal and other industries, as well as the removal of $28 million for new electronic voting machines.
Both the House and Senate budgets provide a 3 percent pay raise for state employees, including state police, and a 2 percent raise for state university faculty. They also include the state’s share of a 1.5 percent increase in teacher pay, which local school officials would have the option of matching.
McAuliffe did not call for raises in his budget, although he has said he would welcome a way to do it. He included a 2 percent raise for state employees in last year’s plan — ultimately rejected — that relied on an infusion of federal funding from Medicaid expansion.
McAuliffe also had called for increasing a series of business fees, including from restaurant inspections, to raise about $10.2 million. The House proposal eliminates those hikes. The Senate plan goes along with McAuliffe’s fee increases but trims them so they would raise $3.6 million in new revenue.
House lawmakers passed, 63 to 36, an amendment from Marshall that would prohibit the use of state funds to pay for the implementation of changes in regulations on abortion clinics that McAuliffe called for last year. Health Department officials are currently reviewing hospital-style building codes that regulate the clinics and were instituted under then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
The General Assembly passed a two-year, $96 billion state budget last year. This year, the legislature and McAuliffe are proposing adjustments to that plan to cover the second year of the budget, which begins July 1.