Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 8, 2014

Va. must balance its budget

TAZEWELL,Va. — With the clock ticking on a potential state government shutdown in Virginia, area lawmakers say they believe cooler heads will prevail before the month’s end.

But the stalemate between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House over whether to accept federal Medicaid dollars under the new Affordable Care Act law is creating uncertainty on the local level. For example, area school systems that must make a decision about issuing teacher contracts are still operating without a budget.

“The governor’s decision to delay the entire state budget over Medicaid expansion is already having a negative impact on our school systems,” Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said last week. “Without a state budget, school boards cannot make informed decisions about hiring teachers or planning for the next year. In Roanoke City, the school board was forced to adopt two calendars for next year because of the uncertainty caused by the budget gridlock.”

Morefield said he is hopeful that lawmakers can reach an agreement. Morefield is urging all residents of Southwest Virginia to contact the office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe before July 1 and ask that a state budget be passed.

Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said he too is hopeful that an agreement can be reached soon.

“I’m getting emails daily about passing a budget from a lot of people in education and local government because they are concerned about their job,” Puckett said. “The thing that is most frustrating to me is we aren’t even talking about anything. We are not in a mode to make a budget work right. We should have been talking about it a while ago but no one wanted to talk. It’s both sides. I’m not blaming either side.”

Until a state budget is passed, Puckett said local school systems and county governments will remain in a holding mode as it relates to state funding.

Puckett said state lawmakers should have learned a lesson from the federal government shutdown last year.

“Certainly local governments, and particularly school personnel, need to know,” Puckett said. “And you’ve got to operate the prisons and have police and have firefighters. And those sort of things are a necessity. The people who get their retirement checks — I assume they will continue to get those.”

House Republicans in Virginia are opposed to accepting federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also dubbed “Obamacare” by critics of the new law. Senate Democrats, and McAuliffe, support receiving the federal dollars for expanding Medicaid. An agreement must be reached between the House and Senate by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown on July 1.

— Contact Charles Owens at

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