Amid the partial shutdown of the federal government, Virginia’s major gubernatorial candidates have been trading jabs over which one is likely to bring Washington-style dysfunction to Richmond.
At a recent debate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe said GOP rival Ken Cuccinelli "tried to shut down" Virginia government in 2008 by introducing an unsuccessful budget amendment in the state senate that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. We rated McAuliffe’s claim Pants on Fire.
This time, we’ll examine a Cuccinelli charge -- made in a radio ad -- that it’s McAuliffe who’s gung-ho for government gridlock.
"He’s already threatened to shut down Virginia’s government if his budget plan isn’t supported," the narrator says of McAuliffe.
Anna Nix, a Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman, told us the claim refers to McAuliffe’s repeated vow that he won’t sign a budget as governor unless it provides for Medicaid expansion. An additional 400,000 low-income Virginians would be eligible for the health care program next year under an Obamacare offering. In the first three years the federal government would pay 100 percent of the new cost. After that, the share gradually declines to 90 percent, with the state paying the rest.
Virginia lawmakers have not decided whether to expand the state’s program, instead opting for a commission that will recommend efficiencies to Medicaid before a final choice is made.
McAuliffe says the state would be foolish to turn down the federal money. Cuccinelli and many Republican legislators oppose expanding Medicaid, saying Washington can’t be trusted over the long term to pay its promised share.
Cuccinelli’s spokeswoman noted that McAuliffe said in a June 1 dinner speech to Loudoun County Democrats, "No budget gets done unless the governor signs that legislation. I will not sign a budget in Virginia unless the Medicaid expansion is included. "
McAuliffe was quoted by the AARP on Aug. 29 saying he wouldn’t sign budget that doesn’t fund Medicaid expansion. During a Sept. 7 speech in Arlington, McAuliffe said, "My opponent doesn’t support the Medicaid expansion. I have asked the legislators `Please do not send me a bill’ -- because the governor has to sign the bill for the budget to come into effect -- ‘please don’t send me a bill unless the Medicaid expansion is included.’"
Growing the program would certainly run into stiff opposition from Republicans in the General Assembly. But is McAuliffe’s pledge not to sign a budget that excludes Medicaid expansion tantamount to a threat to shut down government?
Let’s dig deeper.
If a governor does not sign a budget bill that has been passed by the General Assembly, it automatically becomes law, according to A.E. Dick Howard, a University of Virginia law professor who helped draft a revised state constitution that voters adopted in 1971.
Howard pointed to Article 5, Section 6 of the state constitution, which says if the governor receives a bill while the General Assembly is in session, he has seven days to sign, amend or veto the legislation, or it becomes law. If the governor receives a bill when the General Assembly is not in session, he has 30 days to act before the measure becomes law.
Any budget amendments offered by a governor can be defeated by a majority vote in either chamber. Should the governor veto a budget, the legislature can override it with a two-thirds vote of each house.
McAuliffe says his budget-signing vow will never come into play if he becomes governor because he’s certain he could convince a majority of legislators to approve Medicaid expansion.
"No budget will be shut down in Virginia over the Medicaid expansion," McAuliffe said during a Sept. 25 debate with Cuccinelli. "I will work in a bipartisan way to get it done…so we won’t have any government shutdown."
Cuccinelli says McAuliffe has threatened to shut down state government. He points to McAuliffe’s repeated promise not to sign a state budget that does not allow for Medicaid expansion.
But McAuliffe’s vow, if carried out, would not close Virginia’s government. If a governor does not sign the budget, it automatically becomes law no more than 30 days after the General Assembly sent it to his desk.
It’s striking that Cuccinelli, who has served almost four years as attorney general after an eight-year career in the state Senate, overlooked this constitutional provision. We rate his statement False.