Vir­ginia de­serves a clean budget

Rappahannock News - - EDITORIAL & OPINION -

As the 2014 Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion read­ied to ad­journ, the House out­lined a fis­cally con­ser­va­tive, re­spon­si­ble budget that would pro­vide crit­i­cal fund­ing for our teach­ers, schools, emer­gency per­son­nel and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Yet, with a sim­ple par­ti­san vote in the Vir­ginia Se­nate, the Com­mon­wealth’s budget was taken hostage with no re­gard for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. In fact, Se­nate Democrats vi­o­lated a com­pro­mise that re­sulted from the 2013 ses­sion — the Med­i­caid In­no­va­tion and Re­form Com­mis­sion (MIRC). The pur­pose of the MIRC was to al­low the Com­mon­wealth to un­dergo re­form be­fore dis­cussing the ex­pan­sion of the Med­i­caid sys­tem.

Mak­ing some­thing bet­ter be­fore mak­ing it big­ger was once a com­mon sense prac­tice. Un­for­tu­nately this mantra has been cast out so that the gover­nor can use the budget as a bar­gain­ing chip. Com­pro­mise is a two-way street. House and Se­nate Repub­li­cans have led the dis­cus­sion on Med­i­caid and in­tro­duced the only sub­stan­tive ideas for com­pro­mise.

How­ever, ev­ery ef­fort to reach an agree­ment has been re­jected by Democrats: First it was dis­re­gard­ing the MIRC; then it was hav­ing a spe­cial ses­sion to fo­cus on Med­i­caid sep­a­rate from the budget. Fur­ther, House Repub­li­cans of­fered to ex­tend the ses­sion 30 days and ad­dress Med­i­caid on its own mer­its. If these al­ter­na­tives weren’t enough, one Repub­li­can se­na­tor even sug­gested what has be­come known as “Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia,” a pri­va­te­ex­change al­ter­na­tive.

It seems that all Democrats have been able to say is no. The “it’s my way or we’ll shut down the govern­ment” men­tal­ity is not the Vir­ginia way and is not good govern­ment. By threat­en­ing to veto a budget and shut down the com­mon­wealth, Gov. McAuliffe is set­ting a reck­lessly self­ish prece­dent at the ex­pense of all Vir­gini­ans. Se­nate Democrats have been in lock­step with the gover­nor by en­cour­ag­ing this im­passe.

Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia, pre­sented by Se­na­tor Watkins, did not pass from the Se­nate fi­nance com­mit­tee to the floor for de­bate; how­ever, Se­nate Democrats were swift to in­ject some of their lan­guage into their budget, thereby cre­at­ing an illde­fined de­mand for Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion and vi­o­lat­ing the prior agree­ment that es­tab­lished the MIRC.

Ex­clud­ing the lan­guage from Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia, the cur­rent dif­fer­ence be­tween both the House and Se­nate bud­gets is only $26 mil­lion. In a budget that to­tals more than $90 bil­lion, this is mi­nus­cule. How­ever, the 29 lines of pro­posed code that were in­jected into the Se­nate budget pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to the way in which the com­mon­wealth func­tions.

Seven­teen sen­a­tors, 66 Repub­li­can del­e­gates and one Demo­cratic del­e­gate have ex­pressed se­ri­ous reser­va­tions about the Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia lan­guage. On its face, the pro­posal is a vague, con­cep­tual out­line of a pro­gram that would cre­ate grave fi­nan­cial li­a­bil­i­ties for the en­tire state. Pass­ing this type of lan­guage is the equiv­a­lent of say­ing, “We need to pass it to see what is in it.” Vir­ginia’s fis­cal sta­bil­ity needs to be of the ut­most im­por­tance; this “leap be­fore you look” ap­proach is ir­re­spon­si­ble and could jeop­ar­dize the health, safety and wel­fare of mil­lions of Vir­gini­ans by plac­ing the en­tire state in dis­ar­ray.

There are se­ri­ous is­sues with leg­is­lat­ing the gen­eral con­cept of ex­pan­sion with­out delv­ing into the de­tails of the pro­gram. By rush­ing in blind, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly would wel­come a num­ber of un­in­tended con­se­quences that could rea­son­ably be avoided by dis­cussing Med­i­caid pro­pos­als based on their merit. By not thor­oughly ex­am­in­ing these is­sues, we would be un­able to con­sider the ac­tual cost to ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram’s ex­pan­sion.

For ex­am­ple, the Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices shares per­son­nel be­tween the state and our lo­cal­i­ties. Our cur­rent sys­tem has dif­fi­culty ful­fill­ing en­ti­tle­ments as is. Ex­pand­ing the num­ber of en­ti­tle­ments with­out first en­sur­ing we have the ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­nisms to do so would be dis­as­trous. Lo­cal­i­ties would be forced to in­vest in an in­ad­e­quate sys­tem and raise taxes to do so. Ul­ti­mately, this would cre­ate additional strain on lo­cal­i­ties and in­crease the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als who do not re­ceive the en­ti­tle­ments to which they have been promised.

Fauquier County is cur­rently in the process of ap­pro­pri­at­ing a budget un­der height­ened de­mand to fund es­sen­tial ser­vices such as emer­gency per­son­nel and schools. By forc­ing the county to pay for even more ad­min­is­tra­tive staff, Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion would im­pose an un­funded man­date upon the county. Fur­ther, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia would cre­ate reg­u­la­tory is­sues since it de­parts from tra­di­tional Med­i­caid re­im­burse­ment rates.

As op­posed to the typ­i­cal 70 cents on the dol­lar re­im­burse­ment pro­vided by Med­i­caid, Mar­ket­place Vir­ginia would rely on pri­vate in­sur­ers and could be sub­ject to sig­nif­i­cantly higher rates. It should also be noted that the federal govern­ment has not ap­proved waivers for this type of pro­gram.

Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion must be sep­a­rated from the budget; it must be prop­erly vet­ted. We have seen the dis­as­trous ef­fects of the Af­ford­able Care Act, many of which could have been avoided by prac­tic­ing good govern­ment. We must take a re­spon­si­ble, mea­sured ap­proach to the fu­ture of the Com­mon­wealth. We must pro­vide suit­able fund­ing to our lo­cal­i­ties, pub­lic safety folks and schools as op­posed to de­mand­ing taxes be levied to fund the ex­pan­sion of an in­ad­e­quate Med­i­caid pro­gram.

It is my firm be­lief that we must de­cou­ple Med­i­caid from the budget, eval­u­ate it on its own mer­its in spe­cial ses­sion and pass the budget now.

DEL. MICHAEL WE­BERT

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, 18th district

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