Pass the budget

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Once again, every locality in Virginia is waiting for the General Assembly to pass the state’s budget so that it can pass a budget of its own. Last year, the highly divisive issue that held up the state budget was transportation. This year it is Medicaid.

Last year, Democrats and Republicans agreed on the importance of passing a transportation bill, and the debate centered on how best to fund the plan. At the eleventh hour, both sides agreed to compromise so that the bill, and ultimately the budget, was passed. This year, however, Democrats and Republicans fundamentally disagree on whether the state should expand the Medicaid plan at all. And when the debate is whether you should take on all or nothing, there is usually little willingness to compromise.

And it’s easy to understand why. If Republicans believe that Virginia simply cannot afford an expanded Medicaid plan because it does not guarantee long-term federal funding and could lead to financial ruin, why should they abandon their principles and pass a budget that includes any expansion of Medicaid? Conversely, if Democrats believe it is the commonwealth’s responsibility to take the federal dollars available today, which they believe would not only cover an additional 400,000 Virginians by expanding the public health insurance plan to include them as well, but also provide the state with some much-needed cash flow, why should they bow to Republicans and back off of their position?

Philosophically speaking, both are right to hold their ground. Practically speaking, we soon need one of them to blink.

For his part, the governor on Monday once again called on both parties, “to come together as swiftly as possible to get a budget.” But given his own unwillingness to consider a budget that does not include an expanded Medicaid plan, positioning himself as a facilitator of compromise comes off as disingenuous at best.

Once again, Virginia finds itself without a budget at the eleventh hour, as do the localities that depend on the state’s numbers in order to conduct their own business. Both parties appear to have planted their flag, each willing to die on the Medicaid hill. But it’s cheap and easy for political parties to engage in yet another partisan death match, because in the end it is not them but the people of Virginia who are at the greatest risk of losing.