House, Senate budgets show sharp split - Waynesboro News Virginian: Virginia Politics

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House, Senate budgets show sharp split

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Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 6:30 am

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates unveiled their versions of former Gov. Bob McDonnell's two-year, $96 billion budget Sunday, reflecting broad differences in spending priorities. 

The biggest difference is how each chamber approaches improving health care coverage for Virginia's uninsured, working poor. Senate and House budgets also split on how to increase the pay of state employees, remedy failing schools, and fund reforms in mental health. 

Budget writers in both chambers agreed to set aside bond funding for a new General Assembly Building and to renovate Old City Hall and build a parking deck. 

In some areas, the respective chambers go it alone. The House budget includes a total of $500,000 -- $25,000 per verified claim — to compensate people subjected to forcible sterilization in Virginia between 1924 and 1979. 

The Senate includes an amendment that would cap at $100,000 the amount of general fund dollars that could be used to pay an athletic coach's salary at a state funded college and university. The general fund, which comes from tax dollars, is the part of the budget at the discretion of the governor and the legislature. Most of it goes toward services such as education, health and public safety. 

Each chamber's money committee adopted its own version of the budget Sunday. Ultimately, a select group of senators and delegates will hash out a compromise between the House and Senate spending plans. That compromise budget will be put before the full General Assembly for a vote at the end of the 60-day legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn March 8. 

Gov. Terry McAuliffe commended the two committees for their proposals on higher education and mental health reforms, and he promised to work with the legislature on additional investments in economic development, life sciences, and cybersecurity. 

But McAuliffe voiced disappointment with the House's refusal to accept some form of Medicaid expansion. 

"This is clearly a case of partisan ideology driving a bad business decision," the governor said in a statement Sunday evening. 

Here's a look at some major policy areas and their differences in budgeting: Medicaid The Republican-dominated House opposes expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It prefers instead to reimburse hospitals for money that is removed in McDonnell's introduced budget and cuts in reimbursement under new federal health care regulations. 

The Democrat-controlled Senate also provides more money to hospitals, but introduces "Marketplace Virginia". The private insurance plan would serve the same population that would be covered by Medicaid expansion. It also would replace the federal health insurance marketplace that began operating Jan. 1. 

The Senate pitches the plan as a private business option that would recapture $1.7 billion a year of the $2.9 billion that Virginians send to the federal government in higher taxes and fees under the Affordable Care Act. 

"If we are willing to dial down the rhetoric on this issue long enough to have an informed discussion and debate, I believe the numbers easily make the business case for providing health care insurance to some 250,000 uninsured Virginians," said Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico, a certified public accountant who serves as co-chairman of the committee. 

However, three Republicans on the Finance Committee voted against the health and human resources recommendations because of the amendments to carry out the plan. 

"We don't think the apple's ripe yet," said Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Mecklenburg, who voted no. 

The House spending plan restores about $81 million in inflation adjustments to hospital reimbursements that McDonnell had eliminated in the first year of his proposed budget. The House plan adds $6 million in state funding for free clinics and community health centers that serve people who would be covered by an expanded Medicaid program. 

Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on health and human resources, said the new spending would help support the state safety net while a legislative committee created last year continues to work on reforms of the existing Medicaid program before expanding coverage. 

But advocates dismissed the spending proposals as meaningless compared with the opportunity to collect federal aid amounting to $4 million to $5 million a day. 

"The money to the clinics is a drop in the bucket," said Jill A. Hanken, staff attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. 

Similarly, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said the Senate proposal would result in $657 million in aid to new hospitals and $324 million in budget savings over the biennium, while the House plan would give hospitals $81 million they should have had anyway, including $45 million in state funds. 

The competing budget proposals also differ widely on waiver services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one of the most expensive populations Medicaid currently serves. 

The House wants to add 50 waiver slots for those with intellectual disabilities to be served in the communities and 15 for people with developmental disabilities. Those would be on top of 700 intellectual disabilities waivers and 50 developmental disabilities waivers proposed by McDonnell. 

The budget proposal also directs that the state Medicaid program coordinate services for additional waivers — currently waiver services are not managed by insurers. The proposal would require the state to develop a plan to coordinate care for all waiver services by July 1, 2016. 

The Senate plan concludes that the state is over-funding unmanaged waiver slots, so it would reduce state spending by $15.6 million over two years. 

Both budget proposals would continue the work of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission created last year. The Senate plan would remove requirements that the panel vote to approve Medicaid reforms and expansion. 

Instead, the Senate budget proposal directs the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to obtain federal permission to develop and implement the Marketplace Virginia plan and seek federal funding to run a private insurance marketplace. 

"It's a business solution to the problem of providing health care coverage," said Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, who proposed the plan. "It's not Medicaid expansion; it's private management. It's what Republicans believe in." 

State workers The House budget includes $61 million for a 2 percent raise for employees in certain high-turnover jobs and a 2 percent bonus in the second year for other state workers. 

Most state workers would receive a 2 percent bonus July 1, 2015. Some state employees, roughly 16,000, would instead see on Jan. 1, 2015 a 2 percent salary increase, which is in line with recommendations from a work group looking at state employee compensation issues. 

The Senate proposal includes $49.2 million for a 1 percent salary increase for state employees and state-supported local employees. The Senate proposal also includes funding for a similar increase for higher education faculty. 

The Senate plan also provides $19.5 million in the second year of the budget for a one-time bonus for all Executive Branch and other full-time state employees. 

Virginia Retirement System The House proposes to accelerate full state funding of state employee pensions in the second year of the budget, using a $137 million reserve fund created as a hedge against declining state revenues in the first year. 

The Senate makes no changes in the schedule adopted in 2012 to fully fund the retirement contributions by the 2018-2020 budget. It would adopt the proposal by McDonnell to fund the state plans at about 80 percent of the rates recommended by the Virginia Retirement System. 

Neither spending proposal would add money for teacher pension contributions, which the state and local school divisions share. 

Mental health Both money committees propose significant increases in the $38.4 million in spending McDonnell sought to improve the state's mental health system in response to the Nov. 19 attack on Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, by his son, who then killed himself. 

The House would add about $10 million, primarily to expand bed capacity at state mental hospitals and add seven therapeutic assessment centers to the 12 that McDonnell proposed. 

The Senate would increase mental health spending by $20 million, adding 25 drop-off centers where law enforcement can take people in psychiatric crises for assessment. The drop-off centers are essential to Deeds' legislation to expand the time limit on emergency custody orders from six to 24 hours. 

The plan also includes money for supportive housing for people with mental illness, planning for the discharge of 50 to 60 people from state hospitals who no longer require institutional care, improved access to children's mental health services, and additional support from private hospitals for people in psychiatric emergencies. 

Opportunity Educational Institution Senate budget writers want to dump the embattled program, a statewide entity — which lawmakers approved last year -- that will seize control of public schools that have failed to meet basic academic standards for at least four years in a row. McDonnell championed the division and several state lawmakers sit on its board. 

The House, on the other hand, keeps the OEI but funds it at $150,000 a year instead of the $600,000 in each year of the budget that McDonnell proposed. The House also didn't fund the six full-time positions. Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, chairman of the House Appropriations elementary and secondary education subcommittee, said "we are very committed to the mission of OEI" but want a "very incremental approach." 

The House did, however, transfer OEI out of the state Department of Education and it cemented language into the budget that the division can take over schools that have been accredited with warning for three consecutive years. 

The Virginia School Boards Association and Norfolk's School Board have filed a lawsuit to attempt to invalidate the school takeover law, arguing that it violates parts of the Virginia Constitution. 

Six schools in Virginia, including two in Petersburg and three in Norfolk, are among the first slated for seizure. 

Richmond slavery heritage site In his proposed budget, McDonnell included $5 million for the planning, design and construction of the Pavilion at Lumpkin's Jail, $1 million for improvements to the Richmond Slave Trail and $5 million for the planning, design and construction of a slavery museum. 

The Senate budget keeps what McDonnell proposed. 

House budget writers steer $2 million to the project in the 2014-15 fiscal year -- if the city has raised 50 percent of the funding required for the slavery and freedom heritage site project. The state would give the city the remaining $9 million for the project upon its completion. 

VITA The House budget provides $2.2 million over two years to help the agency prepare for the end of the massive contract with Northrop Grumman to run the state's IT infrastructure. 

Abortion The House budget plan also includes amendments that stake out the Republican policy against abortion. 

One amendment restricts providing any funding to Planned Parenthood. Another proposal prohibits any funding that would be necessary to implement an executive order from the governor to suspend the new regulations governing abortion clinics. 

Two members of the Appropriations subcommittee on health and human resources -- Dels. Robert H. Brink, D-Arlington, and Roslyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg -- voted against the amendments. 

Transportation The Senate spending plan includes $4.5 million to improve the rural road network around the new Powhatan State Park. 

It also directs the Department of Transportation to study possible disparities in paving and maintenance of secondary roads in the Richmond District. The proposed pilot project was prompted by legislation to give Chesterfield County the ability to operate its own secondary road system at the same state reimbursement that Henrico County currently receives for its roads. The legislation was carried over until next year. 

Online poll

If the U.S. Senate election was held today, who would you vote for?

One of Virginia's two Senate seats is up for grabs this November, with the choices between incumbent Mark Warner, Republican challenger Ed Gillespie and Libertarian challenger Robert Sarvis.

Total Votes: 795

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