February 18, 2016
Will Lawmakers Spend More To Do Less?
Governor McAuliffe’s proposal to close the coverage gap in his two-year budget could bring affordable health care to 400,000 Virginians who don’t have insurance. And it would save the state $157 million to invest in other priorities by using $3 billion in federal funds for comprehensive coverage rather than state dollars for a patchwork of safety net programs.
But opponents in the House and Senate have made clear they intend to block the governor’s common-sense plan. Instead, they will likely require the state to spend additional taxpayer dollars just to maintain the current level of services.
For example, there’s a budget amendment before the House Appropriations Committee to put $85 million in state funds back into Medicaid. That wouldn’t be necessary if lawmakers closed the coverage gap. There’s another amendment to devote $41 million in state funds for mental health care. Again, that wouldn’t be necessary if lawmakers closed the coverage gap. There’s one more for $35 million to cover inmates’ hospital costs. And that wouldn’t be necessary either if lawmakers closed the gap.
While there are no budget amendments before the Senate Finance Committee to block the governor’s proposal, they have cautioned that this is not the year for it. That means they, too, will have to put state funds back into the budget just to maintain the status quo.
These are strange times. For years, the mantra among state lawmakers has been to do more with less. This Sunday, when the House and Senate release their state budget proposals, it will be telling to see whether they have changed their tune and decided to do less with more.
–Massey Whorley, Senior Policy Analyst