The General Assembly passed the final version of the state’s biennial budget on Wednesday, May 30th, and Governor Northam signed both House Bills 5001 and 5002 on Thursday, June 7th. It took longer than expected this year to craft our budget, but the final product is balanced and fundamentally invests in the core essential functions of state government (public education, public safety, public health, and public infrastructure) with no general fund tax increases. The budget puts savings first, depositing the entirety of the expected budget surplus for Fiscal Year 2018 in state savings accounts. All told, we will set aside almost $1 billion in various reserve funds, which will buffer the Commonwealth during the next economic storm and improve our credit status. As a result, the bond rating agencies have now reaffirmed our AAA bond rating and stable financial outlook. Moody’s also praised our health care plan, saying it will leave Virginia “less exposed to potential future cutbacks in federal Medicaid spending” than most other states.
Thank you for placing your trust and faith in me to represent you and your family in Richmond. I’d like to take a moment to discuss some of the many positive components of this biennial budget and what they mean for our area of Central Virginia.
The final budget provides a pay raise for our dedicated state employees and teachers and sends more money back to local schools with no strings attached. The final budget also supports public safety officials, continues to provide funding for Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG) (utilized by so many students in our area), improves internet access through broadband development, and provides additional funding for mental health and the opioid crisis. It also reflects our multi-year effort to grow Virginia’s economy through responsible investments and prudent fiscal planning.
During the 2018 General Assembly Session, we got a glimpse of the future should Democrats take the majority in the House of Delegates. Democrats introduced dozens of bills to push their extreme agenda to spend our hard-earned tax dollars and redefine our family and societal values, but the Republican majority stood strong. This year alone, House Republicans defeated $770 million in tax increases proposed by House Democrats. These tax increases would have included taxes on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, hotel taxes, reinstatement of the “death tax,” and a tax on plastic grocery bags. Democrats continued their assault on Virginia’s status as a Right to Work state (you should NOT be forced to join a union or enter into a collective bargaining agreement at your place of employment) and efforts that would have resulted in higher labor and energy costs for all Virginia businesses. We were successful in our battle again this year to defend our Second Amendment rights and to protect precious human life prior to birth.
You elected me to make tough decisions on your behalf. I prayerfully considered the entire budget bill prior to voting in favor, thereby continuing to support the priorities of the General Assembly and affirming our commitments. This budget does include what I consider prudent conservative reforms to Medicaid as part of a plan to improve access to health care coverage for working Virginians. Unfortunately, Congress was not successful in repealing and replacing Obamacare in 2017. With the elections held in November of 2017, the Virginia House of Delegates lost 16 Republican members. We currently have a 51-49 majority. Considering that landscape, the simple truth is there were not enough votes in the Virginia House or Senate to block some form of Medicaid expansion. The House was left between “a rock and a hard place,” choosing whether we continue to say “no” to expansion and end up with straightforward “Obamacare Medicaid Expansion” as pushed by our Democrat Governor and House Democrats, with no safeguards. Or on the other hand, we could craft a conservative health care reform package that reforms Virginia Medicaid as part of our efforts to work with the Trump Administration to improve health care access to low-income Virginians. As your elected representative, I could not allow straightforward Obamacare Medicaid Expansion to occur, and voted accordingly.
This Medicaid plan includes a strict work requirement for participants, affirming the dignity and health benefits of work. It addresses key components of personal responsibility, including education on healthy behaviors and avoiding the use of hospital emergency rooms for primary care services. Included are requirements for participants to have “skin in the game,” by paying some of the costs of insurance premiums and co-pays. Language in the budget requires the direct costs of this expansion of Medicaid services to be paid by the hospitals who will benefit greatly from increased federal health care funding. Finally- and most importantly to me- there is a “Taxpayer Safety Switch,” which will make sure that if the program is ever repealed by the Congress or the federal government falls below its commitment to fund 90% of costs, the plan will end and recipients will be automatically dis-enrolled. Language in the budget bill is quite explicit in this regard.
Is this budget a perfect document? No. Are there elements that I would prefer to add or subtract? Yes. The General Assembly will continue to oversee the enactment of the budget’s provisions and adjust accordingly as circumstances dictate. With an improved and improving state and national economy, we must remain vigilant and focused. Our region is blessed with a delegation of legislators who work well together. I look forward to continuing to work with Senators Newman and Peake and Delegates Byron, Cline, Fariss, and Austin as we oversee the implementation of the many reforms contained in this budget.
I understand that, as always, there are differing opinions on ways to balance Virginia’s budget. My door is always open to discuss your ideas and concerns. Please contact Sarah Owen in my office to set up a time for us to speak. She may be reached by phone at (434) 455-0243 or email at DelSGarrett@house.virginia.gov. Again, I am honored to serve you and look forward to seeing you around the community soon!
All the Best,
T. Scott Garrett, M.D.