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State budget changes offered
State lawmakers unveil budget amendments

 Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Patrick) looks over details on school security measures in the House budget bill.
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Date published: 2/4/2013



--State lawmakers appear to be cautiously moving toward Medicaid expansion, with language in both houses' state budget proposals to seek flexibility in how the state operates the program.

Both the House and Senate budget amendments, unveiled Sunday, also:

Provide money for a pay raise for teachers and other state workers;

Provide some additional money for school resource officers;

Preserve Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to take $49 million from the general fund for transportation;

And propose money to unfreeze some vacant judgeships that have been unfilled for years.

These are proposed amendments to the existing two-year state budget passed last year.

Neither house veered very far away from that budget, nor from amendments proposed in December by McDonnell.

The House Appropriations Committee's budget plan contains language that would allow the Medicaid expansion over time, if the federal government provides the flexibility for reforms that lawmakers seek, and with final General Assembly approval once those reforms are approved.

The Senate Finance Committee's budget language is different and less specific than the House's. The House's proposal also has more-detailed authorizations for implementing Medicaid expansion should the contingencies be met.

That led to all five Democrats on the Senate Finance committee voting against the budget on Sunday, and threatening to do the same when the budget reaches the full Senate later this week.

The Senate is split 20-20 between the two parties, so a no vote from all Democrats would mean the Senate's budget amendments would fail. The senators who then negotiate a budget deal with the House would have no official Senate amendments with which to work.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said the Senate's Medicaid language is "a fatal flaw" to the overall budget.

"The money is being offered us, and I don't think we should spurn it," she said. "Delaying Medicaid expansion is cruel and wrong."

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Virginians will pay for the health care of those who are uninsured one way or the other.

"It's a huge mistake just from that financial standpoint alone."

Republicans on the committee seemed to think they could sway some Democrats by the time of the full Senate vote. Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who leads the subcommittee that deals with health issues, said he might suggest changing the budget language to more clearly authorize the expansion should the state's contingencies be met.

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