Gov. Northam to postpone action on teacher raises, tuition freeze

“We’ve got to wait for the fog to lift to make budget decisions informed by facts and data”

Gov. Ralph Northam during his April 6, 2020 coronavirus update
Gov. Ralph Northam during his April 6, 2020 coronavirus update (WSLS 10)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to delay some long-sought Democratic priorities until more is known about the pandemic’s affect on the economy, pushing back decisions on whether to give teachers and state workers raises, freeze in-state college tuition, and implement other new spending in budget recently passed by lawmakers.

Clark Mercer, the governor's chief of staff, said Tuesday that too little is known about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on state revenues to move ahead now with billions of dollars in new spending, much of which would carry over into future years.

"We've got to wait for the fog to lift to make budget decisions informed by facts and data," Mercer said.

He said the governor, a Democrat, is likely to request a budget reforecast this summer before calling lawmakers back into a special session to adjust spending priorities based on new numbers.

The pandemic is pounding state governments nationwide with a one-two punch, costing them millions in containment efforts just as businesses shut down and tax revenue collapses. The federal stimulus package should soften the blows with $150 billion in direct aid to states, but the long-term impact remains unclear.

Northam, who ordered many businesses closed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, has instituted a hiring freeze of state employees and directed agency heads to find ways to cut spending.

Virginia's coronavirus tally jumped by around 450 cases in one day to more than 3,300 people, with at least 63 dead, according to Tuesday's figures from the Department of Health. Both totals are likely undercounts due to a lack of widespread testing, and the likelihood that many people without symptoms could be spreading the highly contagious virus.

Among the deaths are more than two dozen at the Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Henrico County. Four more residents with COVID-19 have died, the facility's administrator said in a statement Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 32. Forty-nine others have symptoms ranging from severe to mild, according to the statement.