It’s amazing what one vote in the Virginia Senate can do.
After nearly three months of impasse and zero movement, the Virginia Senate last night finally passed a biennal budget that funds the Commonwealth through 2016. Passed on a 21-18 vote, with Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis voting along with the entire GOP caucus, the budget does not include the Medicaid expansion demanded by Governor McAuliffe or the “Marketplace Virginia” compromise that had the support of three GOP Senators.
Wrangling over the budget lasted hours last night, with the Senate finally voting on the budget package after 11 PM. It was quickly taken up by the House of Delegates and passed shortly before midnight. Prior to the vote on the Senate package, there was a brief interlude when the Senate amended the budget package to address concerns that language in the budget package from last year’s compromise on the Medicaid expansion could somehow give the Governor the ability to unilaterally expand Medicaid. Speaker Bill Howell and Delegate Dave Albo have both confirmed that the language in question would not have done that, as the same language was included in the 2013 budget bill passed by the General Assembly, and there was additional language on the books barring the Governor from acting unilaterally.
After a failed attempt by Dick Black to amend the budget to deal with the issue – an amendment that would have been open to an easy line-item veto by the Governor – Senate Republicans, led by Bill Stanley, crafted a line-item veto proof pair of amendments that excised the disputed language.
In a what could have been called a display of political courage, Senator Lynwood Lewis crossed party lines and voted for the final budget package. While it had been expected that senior Democratic Senator Chuck Colgan, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, would have also crossed over, he chose not to do so at the last moment. We have since learned the Lewis claims he voted incorrectly.
The budget passed the House on a largely party line vote, 69-31. Delegate John Joannou crossed over to supply a single Democratic vote for the budget.
It now heads to Governor McAuliffe’s desk.