Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam outlined his proposed amendments to the two-year state budget Wednesday, presenting a plan that includes hundreds of millions on pandemic response and restores Democratic priorities put on hold in the spring over economic uncertainty.
The governor’s proposals, which typically serve as a starting point for lawmakers who will convene in January, account for the fact that Virginia’s economy has held up better than expected this year, administration officials said. The proposal is based on a based on a revenue forecast that anticipates $1.2 billion more than a forecast released in August.
“The plan I will present to you today is intended to help Virginians navigate the next phase of the crisis, and perhaps, its final months,” the governor said in a virtual address Wednesday morning. “It will position us to recover as quickly as possible as we rebuild our economy in a post-pandemic world. And it’s about advancing the progressive agenda that we all embarked upon together just a year ago.”
Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said Virginia had fared well for a number of reasons, including an increase in sales at the state liquor monopoly and the fact that the Commonwealth’s largest employers - the federal government, defense contractors and the tech sector - have weathered the pandemic well, which is being reflected in payroll tax withholdings.
“We are an anomaly,” he said during a press briefing on Tuesday ahead of the governor’s formal address to lawmakers. “Virginia is one of a few states that is showing increased revenue growth.”
Northam’s version of the spending plan restores money previously allocated for expanding access to early childhood education, for higher education tuition assistance and for the governor’s G3 Program to provide free or low-cost job skills training at community colleges.
To fund the continuing response to the pandemic, Northam’s proposal includes nearly $90 million to support the massive effort to deploy COVID-19 vaccines. It would allocate over $500 million to prevent funding cuts to local school divisions that have lost enrollment amid the pandemic, spend $15.7 million on a rent and mortgage relief program and boost spending on an internet accessibility initiative.