Virginia lawmakers spent the weekend working out differences in the state budget, but Monday, they're still nowhere near a deal. That means they could be sticking around the capitol a little longer than expected.
The big sticking point has been, and continues to be, healthcare expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It's a tough and complex topic pitting the House against the Senate, and even Republican against Republican.
“We always go down to the deadline,” said 12th District Senator Walter Stosch (R).
And if you ask state lawmakers, this year won't be any different. Conference committee members and staff will continue to spend long hours this week talking about the state budget and how Virginia will spend general fund revenues for the next two fiscal years.
“We met this morning at 8:30 for about an hour and a half, we'll probably meet five, six, seven hours this evening and this afternoon,” said 76th District Delegate Chris Jones (R).
On most issues, the House and Senate seem to agree on budget priorities. But deciding whether to expand health coverage under the Affordable Care Act is a different story.
“The reason you have an opportunity to engage as conferees is to see if there's an opportunity for compromise,” Stosch said.
House and Senate conferees say they haven't even started discussing "Marketplace Virginia," the Senate alternative to Medicaid expansion.
House Republicans say there's nothing to discuss.
“The bottom line is it should not be in the budget,” Jones said.
Senate lawmakers say not moving forward means Virginia will forfeit billions in tax dollars.
“We are stewards of the resources, so that's what we're trying to sort through now,” Stosch said.
The question is: how long will that sorting continue?
“It may well result in extension of time for the conferees,” Stosch said.
Jones said, “It is what it is and you just have to play it as it lies if you're a golfer, and that's what you have to do.”
If lawmakers don't find a budget deal by Saturday, a special session could be called to finish the work. But no one in the General Assembly wants to see that, and early in the week lawmakers are still optimistic they can finish on time.