Last week the House and Senate named members to serve as conferees. These members will work together through the budget conference process to create the final 2018-2020 biennium budget.

The House’s budget conferees include 4 new members*: Jones, Peace*, Knight*, Garrett*, Torian, and Sickles*. Delegate Landes was not reappointed as a conferee as he voted against the House budget because it included Medicaid Expansion. The Senate conferees remain the same: Norment, Hanger, Ruff, Newman, Wagner, Saslaw, and Howell.

With a $600M difference between the House and Senate budgets, the conferees will work to negotiate the final budget. The biggest difference is the inclusion of Medicaid in the House budget, which frees up dollars for other vital services like raises for state employees, teachers and law enforcement. The Senate has remained opposed to Medicaid expansion so it is unclear if the final budget will include the initiative. Last Friday, Governor Northam announced that he will send down an amendment if the final conference budget does not include Medicaid expansion. The General Assembly will adjourn sine die on March 10th and will reconvene on April 18th to address the Governor’s amendments to the budget.

As of this update, March 7, 2018, we do not know what is happening behind closed doors in the conference committee. We do know that Senator George Barker (D) has been added as an ex-officio member to the conference committee to work on the health part of the budget. We do know that Sen. Emmett Hanger (R) and the only Senate Republican who has vocally supported Medicaid expansion has remained somewhat optimistic about including expansion in the budget.

We also know that, of the six House conferees, four are new to the conference committee with only Jones and Torian being “old-timers.”

But aside from that, there is little coming out to report on. Conventional wisdom is that the budget will not be ready by Saturday for the sine die adjournment of the General Assembly. We have heard that having these four newbies has created more pressure on the House Appropriations staffers, who are quite competent and experienced.

But that’s about it. Tomorrow may have more information forthcoming. But who knows?

Becky Bowers-Lanier and Allie Atkeson | HACA and VHF Advocacy Consultants