- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Friday he plans to call lawmakers back to the Capitol on March 24 to pass the state’s budget.

Lawmakers are deadlocked on whether to accept federal Medicaid funds in order to expand eligibility to 400,000 low-income residents. The stalemate is preventing the General Assembly from passing a budget by Saturday’s scheduled end of the regular 2014 legislative session.

McAuliffe said he wants lawmakers to return home to hear from their constituents on the importance of expanding Medicaid eligibility, which is a key part of the new federal health care law.

“I think it’s important for everybody to go home to their constituents and hear the issues I’ve been hearing as I travel around the commonwealth,” said McAuliffe.

He’s argued that Virginia can’t afford to forgo the $5 million a day in federal funds that would accompany an expanded Medicaid program.

House Republicans asked McAuliffe Friday to allow the General Assembly to pass a budget without Medicaid expansion and then hold a special session specifically on the topic. McAuliffe denied the request, saying an expanded Medicaid program is integral to the budget.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights also said Republicans would prefer not to wait until March 24 to resume work on passing a roughly $96 billion biennial budget.

He said delaying passage of the budget makes it harder for organizations dependent on state money, like universities and local governments, to prepare their own balance sheets.

“We really are putting localities in danger,” said Cox. He said he was particularly concerned that state universities might have to raise tuition higher than they would have if the General Assembly had passed an on-time budget with extra money proposed by the House.

Most Republican lawmakers oppose expanding Medicaid eligibility, saying the current program is growing at an unsustainable rate and Virginia should be wary of the federal government’s promises to cover most of the costs associated with expansion.