Virginia state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett's surprise resignation Saturday has handed Republicans control of the state Senate and also put them in control of the next step in the state's ongoing budget impasse.
The resignation of Puckett, D-Russell, takes effect Monday, giving Republicans a 20-19 majority in the chamber. Since they already control the House of Delegates, that means the GOP now has the advantage in the dispute with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare that has held up the state budget and threatens a government shutdown if not resolved by July 1.
The Associated Press reported that Puckett is being considered for a high-level job with the GOP-controlled Virginia tobacco commission, raising concerns that his resignation was part of a deal. A special session of the General Assembly called to consider the budget is currently in recess.
A statement from the Senate Democratic Caucus said, "We regret Sen. Puckett's decision to resign, but we are grateful for his many years of service. We wish him and his family all the best," according to the AP.
McAuliffe's office echoed the sentiment, saying in a statement, "I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia. This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap."