For the past few weeks Virginia has been consumed with the state Senate’s debate over Medicaid expansion. Opposition by Senate Republicans forced the Assembly to adjourn in March without a budget. If it failed to pass one by July 1, state government would have shut down.
So the 23-17 vote by the Senate — after 10 hours of political posturing and procedural jiu-jitsu — was, naturally, big news.
Virginians learned that the state government would not shut down. That hundreds of thousands of poor residents would get health coverage. That teachers would get 3 percent raises and state employees would get 2 percent raises. That the deal will bring nearly $2 billion worth of federal funding into the state.
The one thing they didn’t learn amid all the discussion, though, was a seemingly simple data point: the total size of the new budget. How much money will the state actually spend during the next two fiscal years? That, apparently, was a secret.
Wednesday’s vote capped a deal between House Appropriations chairman Chris Jones and Senate Finance co-chairman Emmett Hanger. House Speaker Kirk Cox praised it for the “most conservative set of reforms to Medicaid in the nation.” But a spokesman for Cox could not give the budget total. Neither could a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus — though he did call back soon to say “someone is asking someone who may know.”
Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan came through. The general-fund budget, she said, was $42.6 billion, while the total budget was $117.3 billion — but even she had to call the Senate Finance Committee staff to get the figures. (The summary of the budget bill confirms this: It shows expenditures of slightly more than $58 billion the first year and slightly more than $59 billion the second year.)
In case you’re wondering, the current biennial budget is about $105 billion — which means the new one represents an increase of roughly 11 percent. Maybe that’s why the new total was so hush-hush.