UVA Political Expert Larry Sabato on Budget Shutdown

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Any fleeting hope of a deal on Virginia’s two-year budget is gone yet again.  A compromise on Medicaid expansion proposed Thursday afternoon is already dead in the water, and University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato says it's unclear whether lawmakers actually want to find a compromise.

Governor McAuliffe and House Republicans expressed optimism Thursday after Republican Senator Emmett Hanger floated a new idea to end months of budget gridlock. It would have required more reforms before expanding Medicaid but without the support of Senate Democrats that compromise not going anywhere.

It puts us back in the same stalemate situation, with exactly a month left for lawmakers to make a deal before a potential government shutdown. If they don't make a deal by June 30, there's no question it would be bad news for the commonwealth, but Sabato says both political parties could actually benefit from a shutdown, which makes finding a compromise that much harder.

“A month is a long time in politics, and they've got lots of other opportunities to reach a deal if they want to. I guess the real question is, do they want to?” he stated.

When it comes down to it, Sabato thinks both sides might be waiting for a shutdown.

"It benefits the Republican members of the House of Delegates to stand firm, they look good to their activists," he said.

Governor Terry McAuliffe, meanwhile, says he will try to keep the government running without a budget.

"Does he gain from taking charge in a crisis? Often an executive who takes charge gains in the popular opinion polls," Sabato said.

Political points could come at a high cost to Virginia. A shutdown could affect the state's coveted AAA bond rating, and could trigger furloughs for state employees. But as bad as it may seem, Virginia has been close to a shutdown before, and Sabato says this likely won't be the last time.

“Virginia has developed the same pattern of hyper-partisanship and polarization that the national government has in Washington. We never used to run business this way, but I think it's going to become more of the norm,” Sabato said.

They do have a month, but Attorney General Mark Herring is hedging his bets if lawmakers fail to pass a budget. His office announced Friday afternoon it has put UVA law professor A.E. Dick Howard on retainer to help guide the state if a budget isn't passed. And groups like the Virginia Association of Counties have not ruled out potential legal action.

Virginia has never actually failed to pass a state budget on time.

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