Today is day 73 of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Obamacare budget impasse.
For the past several weeks, Governor McAuliffe has proclaimed that he has broad authority to execute the operations of government after July 1, even without a budget law in place. However, the Governor has refused to offer specifics on that authority.
Yesterday, senior attorneys from the nonpartisan and independent Division of Legislative Services presented a constitutional and legal analysis of the Governor’s authority to act without a budget law. The answer is clear: without a budget law, the Governor has very little authority to spend or appropriate money from the state treasury.
If the General Assembly fails to adopt a budget by July 1, Rosenberg and Vucci said the state would have no way to pay employees who report for work, vendors who supply goods and services to the government, or bonds for university dormitories or public school construction.
The governor could issue an emergency order to keep the government open — revenues would continue to flow into the Treasury — but his authority to do so likely would come under legal challenge.
Under the constitution, the state probably would be able to pay debt service on some state-backed bonds and some salaries — the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Supreme Court justices and judges — but not other types of bonds or salaries for state employees, including legislators, the attorneys said.
Money for federally funded programs, such as food stamps, could be required to be paid promptly, but the state would not be able to spend other funds without a budget to appropriate them, the attorneys said.
State employees could continue to work on an IOU basis, but the “General Assembly would be the final arbiter on who gets paid, how much they get paid, and when they get paid,” Vucci said.
Del. John M. O’Bannon, R-Henrico, called the outlook “a very ugly scenario” that could be worsened by “a destabilizing economic picture.”
Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan said, “It’s not going to be a pretty sight.”
No one wants to see a state government shutdown. But comments from top senior Democrats, including Senators Dick Saslaw and Don McEachin, suggest that Governor McAuliffe has is willing to go over the June 30 spending cliff.
Based on the objective advice of independent lawyers, the Governor will have little authority under the Constitution to spend money in this scenario. At the very least, he would be acting on unprecedented and questionable legal grounds.
If the Governor disagrees with this view, then he needs to offer a thorough and detailed explanation of what authority he believes he has, and why it’s even necessary to for him to exercise that authority.
Failing to pass a budget could have severe consequences for Virginia. It could set off an unprecedented constitutional crisis and severely damage our system of government. Practically speaking, it could force thousands of state employees to work for an IOU instead of a paycheck and cost Virginia its prestigious AAA bond rating.
Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is the only issue preventing lawmakers from completing work on the state budget. We should not let a single disagreement stop us from completing the most important job of the General Assembly.
The easiest and quickest solution is to set the debate over Medicaid expansion aside and pass a budget to keep state government open without question.