RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The combination of robust state revenues and unprecedented federal aid is giving Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic legislative leaders an opportunity to reinvigorate the state's economy after the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Northam and the Democratic leadership outlined priorities Wednesday for the state's share of $7.2 billion in federal money that will flow into Virginia from the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden in March. Counties, cities and towns across Virginia will receive $2.9 billion.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that priorities include: boosting underfunded state and local public health systems, helping small businesses and bolstering the Virginia Unemployment Commission, which has struggled with outdated technology and limited staff to resolve thousands of disputed claims for unemployment benefits.
They also want to repair and modernize public school buildings and accelerate Northam's goal for deploying affordable access to broadband telecommunications across the state.
“This is a unique opportunity to invest in Virginia's long-term future,” Northam and the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Northam outlined priorities that he shares with House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax; Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax; and their leadership teams, including House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William; and Senate Finance Chair Janet Howell, D-Fairfax.
The money committees will play a leading role in working with the administration on deciding how to spend the money.
The newspaper reported that a special session is likely in July to make budget decisions.
By then, Virginia lawmakers will know the size of a likely revenue surplus for the fiscal year that will end June 30. Northam announced Wednesday that state revenues soared by almost 42% in April compared with the same month a year ago, when the state’s economy went into a partial shutdown in response to the public health emergency declared the previous month.
“Make no mistake — this is the result of strong fiscal management and Virginians doing the right things to put this pandemic behind us,” he said. “People are getting back to work, businesses are investing, and we expect this surge to continue in the months ahead as our economy returns to full strength.”