As Virginia approaches an unprecedented government shutdown, thousands of state workers are in danger of losing their paychecks, if a state budget battle does not end in one month.
With 107,000 people employed by the state government, the executive branch would have to decide who comes to work, and who would remain without pay in a shutdown scenario.
In an interview Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe would not say who he would choose to forgo pay if a shutdown comes to pass. When pressed, the Governor said he is confident the crisis will end within the next 30 days.
“No one’s going to stay home,” McAuliffe said. “I want everyone back to work. We have to do that for our vibrant economy.”
A shutdown could be triggered if the General Assembly does not pass a state budget before July 1. At the heart of the problem lies a major disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, on whether to expand Medicaid benefits for nearly half a million Virginians.
Underscoring the need for an agreement, Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said without a budget, local governments would be unable to use emergency money from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.” According to Jones’ projections, localities would need to access the Fund because of a $1 billion shortfall estimated over the next two fiscal years.
“Let me be the first to say that this news creates a great deal of urgency and makes it all the more imperative to complete work on the state budget as quickly as possible,” Jones wrote in a letter to Virginia’s local governments late Wednesday. “The consequences of failing to pass the budget by July 1 are simply too grave to delay any longer.”
McAuliffe said the $1 billion shortfall is far from certain, doubting the projected figure because key revenue indicators from 2014 have still not been calculated.
According to Jim Roberts, legislative director for the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, McAuliffe could issue an emergency declaration to keep the state government running.
“The question is, how long that emergency declaration could last,” Roberts said in a phone interview Thursday. “This is truly uncharted territory.”
Positions established in Virginia’s constitution, from judges to sheriffs, would likely continue to receive paychecks in a shutdown situation.
“But the question arises, who would pay them, who would write the checks, if most state workers are at home,” Roberts said.
Pension payments would also be suspended. But McAuliffe remains optimistic the worst will not unfold.
“I don’t go into this thinking the worst case,” McAuliffe said. “We have 30 days to get it done.”