By Delegate Rob Bloxom
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This week’s report is about my vote on the House budget which included Medicaid expansion. My opinion of this expansion has not changed. This huge government program is problematic at best and a budget buster at worst. The dilemma I found myself was the fact that the medicaid expansion on Governor McAuliffe’s terms was included in his outgoing budget. We, in the House of Delegates, did not have fifty-one votes to remove it from the budget. Several of my fellow Republican colleagues expressed their displeasure with Washington’s inability to repeal or replace this program. If we had done nothing, it would have been quite possible for the end result to be straight expansion without any reforms. This would be what we are seeing in Washington as far as the budget is concerned, and Virginia cannot afford such a program. This led to our reluctant acceptance of the expansion but on certain Republican terms, which include major conservative reforms such as a work requirement and a “taxpayer safety switch”. This would ensure that if the federal government backs out of its commitments to pay for the cost, the plan will end. The plan would also require hospitals to pay for 100% of the state’s share of the cost, which is currently 7.5% and will increase to 10% by the year 2020. In theory, Virginia’s taxpayers should pay nothing for this form of expansion. We are confident that the Trump administration will ensure that we get all the reforms we need before providing the funding needed to expand coverage.
The House budget that I voted on includes no general tax increases. The House defeated $770 million in tax increases proposed by Democrats. The budget is structurally balanced, ensuring that Virginia maintains its Triple-A bond rating and long-term fiscal health. Our strong financial posture makes it easier for businesses to grow and thrive in our Commonwealth. We have fully funded our required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. Our pension plan is nearly 80% funded, significantly higher than it was less than a decade ago.
In the area of Healthcare, related to the Eastern Shore, we are providing more funding to the Community Services Board to ensure same day access for those facing mental health crises. We are also providing money to help Community Service Boards do primary care screening.
There are many proposed increases and added flexibility in the support given to K-12 education. Pay raises for classroom teachers, targeted funding for early childhood education, and school security infrastructure upgrades are but a few components making up the House’s budget related to education. Other highlights of our budget include money to dig the channel of the Port of Virginia deeper and wider, pay raises for local law enforcement, and money for agricultural best management practices.
The Senate has passed their budget also. Now will be the time that both budgets will be put into “conference” in which six delegates and six senators attempt to arrive at a compromise. To say that the two budgets are worlds apart is an understatement. I anxiously await their final decisions. Once the conference report has emerged, then it is sent to the Governor for his input. This will then be the start of much more work that will need to be accomplished before our session adjourns.