Virginia Del. Michael Webert (R-18th), Rappahannock’s man in Richmond, met Rappahannock’s guys on Gay Street Tuesday — that is, the informal, itinerant, five-day-a-week gathering known as the Lunch Bunch, gathered this Tuesday for lunch and politics on the patio at Tula’s off Main.
Other than the acute strain on the kitchen, which Tula’s staff handled without limping, there were no injuries. In fact, the lunch was gentlemanly and, for the most part, free of rain.
Webert explained in detail his support of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates’ still unadopted state budget for 2015, one which — unlike the budget preferred by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Democrat-powered state Senate — includes no provision for the expansion of Medicaid and Virginia’s participation in the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would bring federally subsidized health care to up to 400,000 poorer Virginians.
The delegate’s presence increased attendance from the usual single- or low-double-digit Lunch Bunch numbers to close to 30, but the usual distinctively Rappahannock mix of conservative, moderate and liberal remained intact. (There was one woman there, and a few guys whose hair was not yet entirely gray.) Former Reagan administration OMB chief Jim Miller, who lives in Rappahannock, was there. Even former Democratic Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado, in Rappahannock for a local Democratic Committee fundraiser over the Memorial weekend, was there. Neither said much.
Powered by a decisive win last November of his second term in Richmond, if not multiple free coffee refills, Fauquier County farmer Webert did most of the talking.
Rappahannock school board chair and Lunch Buncher John Lesinski originally invited Webert to discuss the state’s Local Composite Index (LCI), the codified formula that determines — based on local property values, household income and other factors — the state’s share of local education (and other) costs.
Lesinski, like other rural school officials around the state, is always looking for ways to change, or compensate, for the fact that urban areas often get significantly larger shares of state funding than rural districts (including Rappahannock, where an .8 LCI means the state only provides 20 percent of school funding).
Since the issue pits urban and suburban areas against rural ones — a phenomenon Webert says defines the Richmond legislative life more than party politics these days — Tuesday’s discussion was brief, not as hopeful as Lesinski and school board member Larry Grove would have liked, and open-ended.
“I’ll just say, as an example, Fairfax County has four or five delegates,” said Webert, whose district includes all of Rappahannock and Republican-leaning chunks of Fauquier and Warren counties. “Rappahannock has . . . one,” Webert added. “Some of the biggest fights we are having these days are not Democrat versus Republican, they’re urban versus rural.”
Webert spent most of the lunch talking about Medicaid — or why he, like his fellow Republicans in the House, believes the governor and Senate are holding the budget hostage, and threatening a state government shutdown when the fiscal year ends June 30.
Webert said he thought the “Marketplace Virginia” health-care plan included in the Senate’s version of the budget — which would spend $5 million a day in federal ACA reimbursements on purchasing private medical insurance for those who can’t afford insurance — would be better as a “pilot” program, limited to two or three Virginia counties or jurisdictions.
“But that issue’s not even on the table,” he said. “What’s on the table is 29 lines of code in the Senate budget,” he continued, referring to the major difference in the House and Senate budget — the allocation for Medicaid participation.
Republicans, including Webert, have said they are suspicious of a federal subsidy that drops from 100 percent to 80 percent after two years (thus bumping up — by some $200 million — Virginia’s annual budget, which this year is already about to suffer a $300 million shortfall blamed on a drop in capital gains tax revenue). Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say Virginians are already paying federal taxes to fund the ACA, and should reap the benefits by their state’s participation.