Speaker Howell Letter to McAuliffe

HouseGOP2014 General Assembly Session, Export, Health Care, Issues

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) sent a letter Wednesday to Governor Terry McAuliffe, urging the Governor to allow the General Assembly to pass a clean budget and then hold a special session on Medicaid expansion. The full text of the letter is below. A PDF version can be found here.

Dear Governor McAuliffe:

As you know, the 2014 session of the General Assembly is due to close in three days. I write to urge you to allow the General Assembly to pass a clean budget bill without delay and then call a special session to deal solely with the issue of Medicaid expansion.

In your letter to House and Senate budget conferees last week, you made two stipulations: that Virginia pass a budget by July 1 and that Medicaid expansion be included in that budget.

This is troubling for two reasons.

First, it is unacceptable and impractical to delay passage of a budget until the first of July. Second, using the budget as leverage in the debate over a controversial issue like ObamaCare and Medicaid expansion is improper.

In regard to a budget delay, going to the wire might be common practice in Washington D.C., but it is neither acceptable nor practical to do so in the Commonwealth. Local governments, school boards, state agencies, our colleges and universities and many businesses that work with the state look to the state budget for guidance as they prepare their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

Nearly 50 percent of Virginia’s General Fund spending passes through as aid to our localities in some form or fashion. Local governments need to know how much they can count on from the state in order to put their budget in place. Likewise, school boards are looking to the state budget as they begin to make important determinations about their finances and consider teacher contracts.

The House budget proposal includes $26 million for tuition moderation and in-state tuition slots, critical funding that could help keep tuition low. Without a budget, our colleges and universities will have to assume the worst when setting tuition rates for the fall, resulting in higher tuition for Virginia families.

It is imperative that the General Assembly pass a budget as soon as possible. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce said yesterday that failing to pass a budget on time “could have serious implications for the Commonwealth.” A delayed budget negatively harms Virginia’s business community and could threaten our AAA bond rating.

House and Senate budget negotiators have ironed out nearly all of the differences in their respective proposals. The House and Senate budgets are separated by only one-tenth of one percent, a difference that could be closed in a matter of days if not hours.

We disagree on the issue of ObamaCare and Medicaid expansion. However, we agree on funding for our teachers, schools, firefighters, police officers and local governments. The House and Senate budget bottom lines are 99.9 percent in agreement.

Why would anyone insist on holding up the entire state budget over one issue?

As we have stated on numerous occasions, we believe the Senate proposal for Medicaid expansion has been improperly injected into the budget process.

Last year, both parties in both Houses agreed to take the issue of Medicaid expansion out of the budget in order to avoid an impasse similar to where we find ourselves today. The Senate Medicaid expansion proposal is language only. It has no impact on our bottom line, appropriates no funds and generates no budget savings. It should be considered separately from the budget as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

Last fall, you and many members of your party accused Republicans of using the threat of a federal government shutdown as leverage in the debate over ObamaCare. You even wrote a letter to Virginia’s congressional delegation urging them to “stop using the threat of a government shutdown as a bargaining chip in other negotiations, including over the health care law.”

Now, the proponents of the Senate’s Medicaid expansion plan are clearly taking the same approach – including the proposal in their budget in order to gain leverage. They are extorting the taxpayers of Virginia, using hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for our teachers, schools, local governments and hospitals as leverage in order to expand ObamaCare in Virginia.

This is wrong.

I am urging you to allow the General Assembly to pass a clean budget bill without Medicaid expansion. Then, at the time of your choosing, you can and should call a special session to address the issue.

Historically, Governors have called special sessions to address major issues they campaigned on. Governor George Allen called a special session in 1994 on parole reform. Governor Jim Gilmore called a special session in 1998 on car-tax relief. Governor Tim Kaine called a special session in 2006 on transportation.

In this instance, a special session would have several benefits. First, it would allow the General Assembly to continue to debate the issue while avoiding a protracted impasse on a budget on which we largely agree. Second, it would allow proponents of Medicaid expansion, including yourself, to craft a substantive, detailed piece of legislation that can stand alone and be considered on its merits. Third, it would allow thousands of Virginians on both sides time to weigh in on this critical issue.

You often speak of finding common ground on the issues that matter most to Virginia. At this moment, there is no more important issue than passing a state budget as quickly as possible.

Virginia did not become the nation’s best-managed state by letting our finances become subject to political games. Over the years, we have consistently charted a prudent course by setting aside our political differences and doing what is best for the Commonwealth. Holding up the budget over a partisan, political issue is contrary to the nature by which you promised to govern and contrary to Virginia tradition.

Allowing the General Assembly to immediately pass a clean budget and then calling a special session to address the issue of Medicaid expansion is the prudent course. I strongly urge you to consider this path forward.

William J. Howell