A major development today at the State Capitol as a move by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli could threaten to derail the passage of an historic compromise to fund transportation in Virginia. The Attorney General has informed lawmakers that in his view a commission to oversee the possible expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional.
Democrats had agreed to that provision in the budget in exchange for yes votes on transportation. Their votes were necessary after conservatives fled from the transportation compromise because of the way it raises taxes and fees.
Meanwhile, Governor Bob McDonnell continues to push the Senate to get both the budget and transportation done today.
He sent this letter yesterday agreeing to the Medicaid commission, but emphasizing that he considers the issues two different things.
Here is a statement from his spokesman Tucker Martin:
"Medicaid and transportation are not connected, and are two completely different policy issues. Some may want to tie the two together, the Governor will not. Yesterday, the transportation bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats came together to vote for better roads and a stronger economy. This is the closest we’ve been to passing a long-term transportation funding plan for Virginians in 27 years. It is time to act to improve transportation in Virginia, and this is that opportunity. We urge the Senate to vote on the transportation bill today. This is the last day of the session, and the Governor also expects legislators to pass a budget today as well."
We continue to monitor how this unfolds.
UPDATE: The Times-Dispatch is reporting that negotiators have reached a deal that should change the language in the budget bill that should ease constiutional concerns over the Medicaid expansion Commission.
That same report quotes Del. Chris Jones, the architect of the transportation compromise, as saying that Cuccinelli's initial reaction to the comission was provided before he reviewed the full bill.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Kaine, who was unable to forge a deal on a long term transportation funding stream during his time as governor released a statement encouraging both sides to get this done.
His full statement is below:
"I am heartened by the General Assembly's discussion about compromise solutions for Virginia's transportation and health care needs. The Governor wants to invest in Virginia's transportation system and legislators of both parties are working to come together. Many legislators, citizens and health care providers hope to see an expansion of Medicaid that would benefit over
400,000 low-income Virginians and the Governor's team has worked with them to find a path forward that balances patient care, innovation and cost effectiveness.
"A legislative session that would finish with a comprehensive transportation deal and Medicaid expansion would go down as the most consequential session in many years. It would be to the great credit of both parties and Virginia citizens would be in their debt. I hope the Governor and General Assembly can make this happen, not only for the citizens whose lives would be improved, but also to show good faith compromise is still possible. We need that example as we return to Washington this week to tackle our fiscal challenges."
The Senate began debating the transportation bill around 2:00pm. You can watch the proceedings here.
UPDATE: Senate passes transporation compromise 25-15. It now goes to Governor McDonnell who has endorsed the plan.