The Virginia General Assembly adjourned as scheduled Saturday without passing a state budget.
The leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates remains at an impasse with the Senate, which is evenly split between the parties, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) over the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
In a letter to legislators, McAuliffe indicated that he will call a three-week special session starting March 24 with the goal of passing a budget.
The new fiscal year begins July 1, so legislators and the governor have time to work out the differences before the threat of a state government shutdown.
McAuliffe campaigned on expanding the state’s Medicaid program using new federal funds available under the Affordable Care Act, which would provide coverage for an estimated 400,000 people statewide.
“More than 400,000 uninsured Virginians have been waiting too long to access this coverage,” McAuliffe wrote in his letter to legislators. “The House and Senate need to find common ground on a path forward that funds the priorities most important to Virginia families.”
The House of Delegates version of the budget does not envision any expansion of the Medicaid program. House leaders have repeatedly said that they will not consider expanding Medicaid until reforms are enacted for the existing Medicaid system.
The Senate version of the budget tries to strike a middle ground, using the available federal funds to launch a privately managed insurance program called Marketplace Virginia that would cover an estimated 250,000 people who currently do not have insurance.
Nationwide, 25 states and Washington, D.C., are moving ahead with the Medicaid expansion and six states, including Virginia, are still debating the issue, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nineteen states have decided not to expand Medicaid at this time.
Republicans are pushing back at McAuliffe with an online petition drive, accusing the governor and General Assembly Democrats of holding the state budget hostage for political purposes.
“Regardless of how you feel about Obamacare, holding hostage funding for our schools, teachers, police officers, firefighters and local governments is wrong,” Springfield Del. Dave Albo (R-Dist. 42) wrote on his blog. “Threatening a state government shutdown if you don’t get what you want is not the Virginia way.”
Other Republican delegates sent newsletters to constituents using similar language, urging people to sign a petition that asks McAuliffe to “pass a clean budget.”
Legislators came to a compromise agreement on Medicaid last year with amendments to the state budget that anticipated the federal revenue for expanding the program but with a caveat that the expansion will not move forward until a commission studies and makes recommendations for possible reforms to the Medicaid system. That commission did not issue a recommendation about Medicaid expansion prior to the start of the General Assembly session.