RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — General Assembly budget negotiators agreed late Friday night on revisions to Virginia's state budget, including a tentative compromise on Medicaid expansion that became a bargaining chip in a high-stakes legislative battle over transportation funding reforms.
The dozen senior legislators — six senators and six delegates — reached a final deal on changes in the final year of Virginia's $88 billion two-year state government fiscal blueprint.
That puts the budget — including creation of a 12-member commission to oversee Medicaid reforms — up for final votes in the House and Senate just before the 2013 General Assembly adjourns on Saturday.
The Senate also faces a final vote on the transportation compromise.
The Medicaid issue was the biggest sticking point in the budget talks. It became linked to the transportation initiative when Senate Democrats conditioned their support for that legislation on written assurance from Gov. Bob McDonnell that he would not veto or amend the Medicaid agreement.
"We need to see the letter with his signature, and the logjam is broken," said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County and one of the Senate budget negotiators. When the governor's letter had not arrived by late afternoon, the Senate adjourned without voting on the transportation bill.
McDonnell completed the letter and sent it to Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment around 7 p.m. In it, the governor lauded the compromise but conspicuously left open the possibility of amending it later.
"It's what we were looking for," said Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax County.
McDonnell on Wednesday had admonished negotiators not to expand Medicaid until major state and federal reforms are achieved, angering Democrats who favor prompt expansion.
"I commend the conference committee for coming up with a concept to ensure that significant reforms are attained prior to any potential expansion of Medicaid," McDonnell wrote in the letter released late Friday.
He concluded: "I look forward to reviewing the final language that is agreed upon by the conferees when the budget reaches my desk."
The letter clenched a compromise the administration and Health and Human Resources Secretary Dr. Bill Hazel had negotiated over the past two days.
Democrats hold 20 seats in the 40-member Senate, giving them just enough clout to kill the $880 million-a-year transportation bill — the first significant funding overhaul for Virginia highways and transit in 27 years — if they don't get their way on Medicaid.