Where the budget goes from here
Published 12:28 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Some have asked, if the 2018 session is over, what is going to happen with the budget? All introduced legislation, including the budget, had to be agreed to by both the House and Senate by the 60th day of session or it died. Therefore, the governor had to call a special session that could only deal with the budget and judgeships that might be funded in the budget. Gov. Northam has called that session to begin April 11. As yet, however, he has not indicated if he will re-offer Gov. McAuliffe’s budget or offer a new budget. Either way, we will work with it. I have friends in the House of Delegates in our region and all over the state that have come down on both sides of the issue of whether we should expand Medicaid. I will not criticize their decision, I respect them too much. How they made their decision is based on their districts, the information they were given about the budget, or some other factors. Some 60 percent of Republicans in the House of Delegates opposed the House version of the budget. I can only focus on the facts that I know exist, and my knowledge of what moves people in making decisions. This week I will write about facts, and next week will focus on dynamic economics. FACTS No one knows how many people would be added to the Medicaid rolls. I’ll use a family of four as an example. That family could qualify under the House plan if its annual income is under $34,638. Because every family situation and values are different, it is impossible to know how many might participate. The government calculates the expected usage. Last year, the estimate for Virginia was that 400,000 would be expected to be added to rolls. This year, the number was lowered to 300,000. A decrease of 25 percent in one year sounds strange. For each state that has expanded, the actual number of those who signed up has averaged more than 30 percent higher than estimated. The number could exceed 500,000. The House must have understood that for its budget to work, it had to reduce the universe of possible participants. They did that by adding a work, education or community service requirements as Kentucky and a couple of states have done. However, instead of copying Kentucky, they chose to allow people to promise to try to get a job with no method of follow up, an honor system if you will. In Kentucky, they qualify only after proof of working at least 20 hours a week. As for the education requirement, there is nothing included in the House budget that anyone taking classes toward bettering themselves, nor is there any requirement that they regularly attend classes. Someone could sign up for a class or two, get financial help through the federal Pell Grant program and then show up a few times. If that were not bad enough, the House budget also places a “provider fee” on hospitals. This a polite way to describe a tax on the hospitals. This tax would produce the revenue to match the federal dollars that is required in the “Obamacare” legislation. Some consider this a con game. Considering the federal government is borrowing every dollar in this program, it might be better to describe it as a free way to live off your children and grandchildren. We can and must do better. Our concern should be their longterm future, not a shortterm fix. Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen. Ruff@verizon.net.