Cuccinelli's opinion on Medicaid panel threatens budget

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A quickly done overnight opinion by crusading conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that a panel to oversee Medicaid reforms is unconstitutional threatened to scuttle Saturday's final vote on Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's marquee transportation funding reform legislation.

At the request of Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, Cuccinelli opined that the General Assembly "may not delegate final legislative authority regarding budget or other matters to a committee composed of a subset of the members of the General Assembly."

His advisory letter to Cline came hours after McDonnell wrote a letter to budget negotiators in which he expressed conceptual but not specific acceptance of such a panel as a condition for allowing Medicaid expansion to about 400,000 uninsured Virginians just over the poverty level.

Without the letter, the 20 Senate Democrats necessary to pass the governor's legacy transportation bill delayed a vote Friday until they had McDonnell's assurance in writing. Without that assurance, they said, the transportation bill and perhaps approval of the state budget would be doomed in a Senate where there are only 20 Republicans and 21 votes are necessary to pass the bills.

In explaining his reasoning, Cuccinelli - a tea party hero and the presumptive Republican nominee to succeed McDonnell - wrote that "the General Assembly is prohibiting (sic) from doing indirectly that which the Virginia Constitution prohibits it from doing directly."

To oversee Medicaid reforms as the commission is envisioned to do, Cuccinelli wrote, actions toward that end would require a vote of the entire legislature - at least 51 votes in the 100-member House and 21 in the 40-seat Senate - to comply with the state Constitution.