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February 10, 2014

Virginia’s Brave New World

Apparently, we’re about to enter a brave new world here in Virginia. House Speaker Howell and Majority Leader Cox say they are hesitant to accept federal money to allow more Virginians to get health care through Medicaid, arguing that the federal government can’t be counted on to hold up its part of a very good bargain for Virginia – full federal funding of the costs for the next three years and no less than 90 percent after that.

But if these lawmakers and their colleagues are serious about going cold turkey on Virginia’s use of federal funding because someday maybe Congress will reduce that funding, then we should expect a radically new budget from the House of Delegates on February 16, when it releases a state spending plan for the next two years.

That’s because more than 21 percent of Virginia’s revenue comes from the federal government.

For instance, Virginia’s investments in education depend on federal dollars: In 2015, the state is banking on more than $900 million. And the vast majority of this money will go directly to our schools.

We’re also relying on over $140 million in federal funds to support public safety across the commonwealth. That’s money for the state police, our courts, and the Virginia National Guard.

We also make heavy use of federal funding for our transportation system. In the last fiscal year, Virginia received almost $1.1 billion, most of it for highway maintenance and construction.

So if we can take the speaker and majority leader at their word, then big chunks of the state budget must be on the chopping block since someday maybe Congress will reduce funding for all of those things, too.

Or maybe not. Maybe what these lawmakers are saying is that it’s OK to use federal funds for cops on the street, our courts, our roads and schools. But it’s not OK to use federal funds to provide health care to hard-working low-income Virginia families.

The truth is that federal funding has been effective at helping Virginia and other states provide essential services for their residents for decades. We should welcome the funding for quality, affordable health care, not look for excuses to block it.

–Michael Cassidy, President & CEO


The Commonwealth Institute

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