A lesson in working together

Published 9:19 pm Saturday, April 10, 2010

There were times during the General Assembly’s budget debate this year when it looked as if the opposing forces would be unable to come to a compromise in the face of a shortfall of more than $5 billion. First, the Democrats and Republicans and then the state’s Senate and House of Delegates were bitterly split over what programs should be cut and what sacrifices should be made in the name of balancing the budget.

For most of the session, Virginia legislators worried over the solution. Tax receipts had fallen drastically because of the nationwide recession, and expenses would need to be reduced by like amounts before the General Assembly could send a budget for the governor’s approval, declare a recess and go home. Predictably, partisanship trumped compromise in the early going, but legislators finally were able to craft a solution that spared citizens higher taxes, while at the same time minimizing the cuts to important state programs like education and healthcare.

Still there were some losers, and one unfortunate member of that category — at least until the end of last week — was the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, whose state funding would have been cut by $1.8 million, triggering a similar decrease in federal Medicaid reimbursements. The funding drop would have severely affected the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

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A couple of Hampton Roads lawmakers — along with a governor who calls Hampton Roads home — saw the situation, realized the important work the hospital does for sick and injured children, regardless of their ability to pay, and set aside partisan differences to assure that something got done to protect the hospital’s work. So a Republican delegate from Suffolk, a Democratic senator from Norfolk got together to plead with a Republican governor from Virginia Beach for his efforts on behalf of the hospital.

On Friday, the governor’s office announced that it would recommend the General Assembly restore the $1.8 million to the budget, signaling a win not just for the hospital, but also for bipartisanship and the spirit of compromise. There must be a lesson in there, somewhere, for the rest of Virginia’s state legislature.