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Northam unveils budget proposals to address ongoing pandemic

Posted at 1:25 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 13:31:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ahead of a special legislative session Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new budget proposals to prevent evictions, expand access to high speed internet, and focus on police reform, among other things, in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Northam said primarily, the 2020–22 budget needed to focus on the long term, taking into account the unpredictability of the pandemic.

He said the state and country is in a crisis, and his new budget would work to address that.

In terms of the fiscal year 2020 budget, Northam said it was built on revenues that were steady and growing.

A chart displayed in Tuesday’s meeting showed both the U.S. and Virginia economies growing on par with the official forecast through February, but employment started to decline in March with the arrival of COVID-19.

Including transfers, Governor Northam said the Fiscal Year 2020 General Fund finished $232 million below forecast.

In Tuesday’s Joint Meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees, Northam announced plans for amendments to the 2020-22 budget.

“In the budget I present to you, I am choosing not to reinstate spending on my own top priorities,” said Northam. “To be clear, I’m doing this for one reason alone — to preserve our financial options so we can make it through this pandemic.”

Some of those priorities mentioned by Northam included raises for teachers, cost of tuition, access to affordable health care…among other things — which he said may have to be put on hold until January.

To make it through the pandemic, Northam said his new budget would focus on helping people stay in their homes by allocating $88 million to combat evictions.

Eighty-five million dollars go toward expanding access to broadband and high-speed internet.

Northam said he also planned to focus on police reform, including better training for police officers and more input from citizens.

In addition, he unveiled proposals aimed at increasing voter access and safety like secure boxes to drop off ballots in addition to the standard postal service delivery.

“The package that I’m presenting you reinforces that we need to make it easier to vote, not harder,” said Northam. “But please know this: the department of elections is prepared to start mailing ballots in just four weeks. For these reforms to matter in November, we must make them now. I ask you to move quickly to pass this budget because the stakes are high for our country.”

Among other proposals, Northam said 15 million dollars of the new budget would go toward dam rehabilitation projects that can’t wait, siting the weekends flooding as evidence of their necessity.

The proposals will be considered by lawmakers during the special General Assembly session set to begin Tuesday afternoon.