Some Virginia lawmakers are back home while a state budget lies in limbo. Southwest Virginia Delegates and Senators tell us the battle over Medicaid is creating the gridlock in Richmond, and it's keeping some local governments from planning their budgets.
The budget battle in Richmond continues, not just between Republican and Democrats, but between the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate. "I think it's frustrating that we're not sitting down, we're not communicating with each other. Even if we disagree we ought to be able to sit down and talk with each other," says state Democratic Senator Phillip Puckett.
Earlier this week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called a special session to discuss the budget, but there's still no spending plan in place for the Commonwealth. "What we want is to pass a budget debate -- Medicaid, whether it be Medicaid expansion or a marketplace," adds Republican Delegate Israel O’Quinn.
"Governor McDonnell’s budget doesn't have Medicaid piece in it. The Senate's budget, Governor McAuliffe's piece, has Medicaid expansion in it, so that's the basic difference between the two budgets," says Puckett.
The sharp difference between the two budgets is expansion of the Medicaid program to add more than 400,000 people.
Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Democratically-controlled Senate want to accept federal Medicaid funds, while the Republican-controlled House does not; there is no sign of a compromise. "I wish I could tell you we're going to be able to do this pretty quickly, but I don’t feel like we can," adds Puckett.
"It's a high-stakes game of chicken if they want to keep playing games and show up and leave early, and then not show up and refuse to negotiate," says O'Quinn.
We learned it cost around $40,000 per day when lawmakers are called back for a special session, but it could cost taxpayers and local governments a lot more if a budget isn't in place by July 1. "We need to get the budget passed immediately so that all of those entities can begin to budget for the next fiscal year," says O'Quinn.
The battle trickles down to our region as well. The longer it takes state lawmakers to pass a budget, the longer local governments have to wait to solidify their own. Both are supposed to be back in Richmond April 7 to vote on a budget.