GA Members Get Ready
Unsure What To Expect, Legislators Prep For Session
But the members’ expectations are about the same as this time last year: In short, they don’t know what to expect.
“It’s not just a new governor coming in, but there’s new Cabinet positions [and state agency hires],” said Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway. “Is it going to be a [business]-friendly atmosphere?”
Wilt joined Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, in an annual presession legislative breakfast Wednesday at the James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center.
The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council and JMU Office of Research and Scholarship sponsor the event.
Last year, the same trio of lawmakers, as well as Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, attended the breakfast and spoke of the uncertainty caused at that time by the federal government’s “fiscal cliff.”
McAuliffe, who was elected governor Nov. 5, takes the cliff’s place in muddying the waters this year for area Republicans.
For Landes, the incoming governor’s administration is a “little light on specifics” on how to grow the economy.
“At some point, [candidates] have to deliver,” Landes said of campaign promises. “For a lot of us, it’s wait and see. The governor-elect is going to have to put his money where his mouth is.”
Landes is hopeful that McAuliffe works with the General Assembly to protect and grow the agricultural and forestry industries, as well as expand the opportunities for small businesses in Virginia.
Wilt, president and general manager of Superior Concrete in Harrisonburg, said the government must be careful not to overregulate businesses.
“You want a fair opportunity to be able to gamble with your money,” he said.
One of the major issues facing the General Assembly when it convenes Jan. 8 will be how to reform the state’s Medicaid system, legislators say. Hanger and Landes sit on a commission charged with overseeing reforms and whether to expand the program that serves low-income families with children, the disabled and others.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pick up the full cost for the first three years that states expand.
McAuliffe supports that growth, while most Republicans, including Landes and Wilt, do not.
“The federal government has no money,” Landes said. “They are running deficits in the trillions of dollars. There’s no — at least in the short term — hope that they’ll solve that.”
Hanger is more open to expanding care to about 400,000 Virginians, though he says that’s contingent on reform.
“There’s a lot of political pressure on both sides, but more recently, it seems like there’s more pushback against the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “We can’t afford to do nothing. … If we can effectively address reforms, we should use federal dollars that are available.”
Landes also supports reforms to Medicaid, a program that costs $7 billion a year in Virginia, roughly 20 percent of the state’s budget. Preliminary estimates show that cost increasing by more than $600 million in the next two years, he said.
If the state expands Medicaid and federal funding is absent, he said the General Assembly would have to weigh options of removing the new enrollees from the system; reducing services to all participants; cutting funding from other priorities, such as higher education; and raising taxes.
Revenues, Landes added, are not growing at the same rate as health care costs.
“I don’t think expansion is the right way to go,” he said.
The coming months will determine the direction Virginia heads on that matter and many others.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting session,” Hanger said. “Our party lost, but the process is not totally dependent on the chief executive.”
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