Governor announces surplus, pushes Medicaid expansion during year-end report

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Terry McAuliffe said he has “cautious optimism” when it comes to Virginia’s fiscal health.

On Monday, he gave a year-end report to the joint money committees in a packed room at the Pocahontas Building.

McAuliffe said the Commonwealth is ending fiscal year 2017 with $136.6 million more in the general fund than projected.

“This surplus is due to Virginia’s consensus forecasting process — which cultivates thoughtful insight and advice from economists, business leaders and members of the General Assembly,” he said.

Some of that money is already committed to certain projects. For example, 10 percent will go to the Water Quality Improvement Fund.

But McAuliffe recommends, beyond that, “every available dime” of the surplus go to cash reserve.

“Any effort to build up liquidity in cash reserve is a wise course of action,” he said.

It’s something lawmakers have already endorsed.

McAuliffe said President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal will cause “irreparable harm” to Virginians.

“For all the progress that we’ve made, we do face clear and dangerous threats to our fiscal health,” said McAuliffe.

McAuliffe said there are two big-ticket items to consider during upcoming budget deliberations — the cost of public education and health care.

He called, once again, for Medicaid expansion.

McAuliffe said, by not doing so, Virginia has now forfeited nearly $10.5 billion in federal tax dollars.

Though the idea hasn’t been widely-received by members of the General Assembly, the governor believes there will be a shift in thought next year.

“I do think next year, there’s just no options left. They’re going to have to take it. It is fiscally and morally irresponsible to leave this money on the table,” he said.

But the idea was shot down by republican leaders.

“I do not see that there is any increased receptiveness in the General Assembly to expand Medicaid,” Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment said minutes later.

He cited money problems in 22 of the 31 states that have chosen to go that route.

Speaker-designee Kirk Cox doesn’t support expansion either.

“The states that have actually done it, it has not been the panacea the governor talked about,” said Cox. “I think Virginia needs to get away from that type of thing. It would be a real mistake for us to do that.”

McAuliffe said the conversation could happen after the election.

“I have had republican legislators privately saying to me, ‘Governor, I would vote for it tomorrow. I get it. It will help my rural community. But if I do, I will lose my election,'” said McAuliffe.

During the meeting, McAuliffe unleashed other statistics from his time in office.

He said Virginia has closed 1,012 economic development projects worth a record-breaking $16.4 billion. He said that’s more than any other administration in Virginia history.

Since he took office, McAuliffe said more than 200,000 jobs have been created and that initial unemployment claims are at a 44-year low.