By Senator Lynwood Lewis
Listen to this report:
With the adjournment of General Assembly Session only two weeks out, business here in Richmond is moving at a brisk pace. Many of my Bills went through their first round of Subcommittee hearings this past week and all but one – my Bill to establish a regional authority devoted to coastal resiliency – advanced to full Committee.
The focal point of this week, however, was the Budget. Last Sunday, both the House and the Senate released their respective Budget Bills. Both differ from the outgoing Governor’s Budget that was proposed in December, but they also have substantial differences from one another. In fact, there is more than a 600 million dollar discrepancy between the House and the Senate Budgets. This is mostly due to the lack of Medicaid Expansion in the Senate Budget proposal. Major components of both the House and Governor’s budgets are not included in the Senate Budget, including a heavily-supported two percent pay raise for teachers.
Without the revenues contingent upon Medicaid Expansion, our purse strings are forced to tighten dramatically. The House proposal is not straightforward Medicaid Expansion; it includes certain provisions, namely work requirements and a kill-switch to ensure Virginia isn’t left to foot the bill if federal funding were to lapse. Due to the nature of this compromise, I am hopeful that some form of Expansion will emerge out of the Budget conference between the House and the Senate. This is where the two bodies will have to reconcile their respective proposals. In order to advance many of our spending priorities, including many that benefit the Eastern Shore like my proposed shallow-channel dredge fund, the inclusion of Expansion in the final Budget is critical.
The Senate Budget did include dollars for oyster restoration, the Army Corps of Engineer study of the inlet at Chincoteague Island and agricultural best-management practices, all of which I advocated for. Both the House and Senate Budgets appropriated funds for the Eastern Shore Public Library, though expansion revenues enabled the House to provide one million dollars to the project compared to the Senate’s $250,000. In conference, I would like to see the Senate adopt funding for both the shallow-channel dredge fund and my proposed special advisor to the Governor for coastal resiliency. Both of these priorities were funded in the House Budget.
The next two weeks will likely bring heavy coverage of the progress being made on the reconciliation of the Budgets. I will continue to advocate for the spending priorities that are vital for us on the Shore and invite any questions or concerns anyone may have regarding what is or is not included in the current Budgets. There is not much time left to make your way to the State Capital while Session is still ongoing, and I encourage everyone to try to do so over the next two weeks if you are able. The activities of the legislature can still be monitored at the General Assembly website VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov. I can be reached at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov and while in Richmond by telephone at (804) 698-7506. Please do not hesitate to contact me on issues with questions about legislation or on issues of concern.
Lynwood W. Lewis, Jr.
Senator, District 6