by Tyler Arnold
With a $2.7 billion budget shortfall and continued economic uncertainty, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wants the General Assembly to postpone considerations of higher education spending, teacher pay raises and other spending initiatives he had hoped to include in the budget before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The General Assembly passed a biennial budget in April that gutted about $2.3 billion from the governor’s pre-pandemic budget proposal. The General Assembly was expected to reconsider some of these proposals based on new revenue projections in a special session that convened Tuesday, but Northam proposed a budget that maintained all of the cuts and urged the General Assembly to reconsider the spending initiatives when they reconvene in January.
Additional funding would have paid for a salary increase for teachers and other state workers, tuition-free community college and investments in behavioral health, transportation and health care.
“We all share these priorities, and we will return to them in January, when the time is right,” Northam said Tuesday morning in addressing a virtual joint meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, Senate Finance and Appropriations committees.
“Just as our revenues now look better than we predicted when the pandemic began, we expect the December reforecast to show additional improvement about 16 weeks from now,” Northam said. “But for that to happen and allow us to return to these shared priorities, our economy must show improvement. … I fully intend to implement and carry out the progressive budget that you and I wrote together this past winter. It’s the right thing to do, and it reflects commitments we made to the people of Virginia.”
The governor said no one knows when a vaccine will be available or how much longer the pandemic will continue. He said the state has continued to make prudent decisions, such as a freeze on hiring and discretionary spending, which saved the state about a half-billion dollars.
When debating the budget, Northam encouraged the General Assembly to preserve financial options and use one-time money to invest in the future rather than use it on recurring funds.
Northam’s proposal includes some smaller spending initiatives, which he said are COVID-19 related.
The additional spending includes $88 million to combat evictions and invest in affordable housing, which includes $85 million in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Northam said it’s essential to keep people in their homes, especially during a pandemic. The state has seen an uptick in eviction cases, but the Virginia Supreme Court has suspended temporarily them from being enforced.
Northam’s proposal includes $85 million to expand broadband services to Virginians, which Northam said will be essential for the upcoming school year. Many schools and colleges will provide either virtual learning or a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning. He said 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students do not have broadband at home.
The budget proposal also includes $2 million for prepaid return postage for absentee ballots sent out for the Nov. 3 election.
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Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.