The last day of the session just got a heckuva lot more interesting:
Agreement on a landmark transportation package and amendments to the state budget could be in jeopardy following a late-hour legal opinion issued Friday by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that questions the constitutionality of a pending deal that would allow the commonwealth to move forward on the expansion of Medicaid.
Bipartisan agreement on the transportation deal in the Virginia Senate was halted Friday when Senate Democrats insisted on a letter from Gov. Bob McDonnell stating that the governor would agree to a committee to oversee the legislature’s action on Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, and a promise not to veto any language governing expansion in the budget bill.
This agreement was the fig leaf Democrats have insisted they needed before they could go along with the transportation bill.
But while lawmakers were closing in on a deal, and a letter from McDonnell, to allow legislative action to move forward on transportation, Del. Ben L. Cline, R-Rockbridge, the co-chairman of the Conservative Caucus, asked Cuccinelli whether the General Assembly, as part of enacting the budget, could delegate the authority to make spending decisions regarding Medicaid to a smaller “sub-group of elected officials, including members of the General Assembly.”
What’s the opinion say? Basically, this:
“It is my opinion that the General Assembly may not delegate final legislative authority regarding budget or other matters to a committee composed of a subset of the members of the General Assembly.”
As big a deal as this should be, Demcorats are also brushing it off:
House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said the attorney general’s opinion does not address the central issue in the proposed Medicaid expansion budget amendment.
“I think if you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer,” Toscano said.
“I don’t think the Cuccinelli letter really has much relevance to the details of the language in the conference report. It has a lot of political implications.”
That would seem to indicate that for Democrats, at least, the light is still green, and they can go ahead and vote for whatever deals they’ve struck with the Governor and Republican leaders.
And there’s every reason to believe that the transportation bill, at least, will win Senate approval. sources told me Friday night that between nine and 12 Republicans could vote against the bill. Democrats would have to provide the winning votes and, despite Cuccinelli’s letter, there is no indication right now that the Democrats will fold.
Looks like a new deal is in the works to smooth passage of just about everything:
Sen Edwards says budget negotiators working on a rewrite of Medicaid language to avoid Cuccinelli’s concerns, thinks solution near.
— Chelyen Davis (@chelyendavis) February 23, 2013
Now Sen. Tim Kaine is joining the fray:
— Ryan Nobles (@ryanobles) February 23, 2013