Northam Asks General Assembly to Amend Budget

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures duding a news conference at the Capitol, in Richmond, Va(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Brian Carlton

November 6, 2020

The governor submits 10 amendments for consideration, Assembly will meet Monday

RICHMOND-The General Assembly’s budget needs some work. Governor Ralph Northam argued that on Thursday, requesting a series of amendments before he could sign it into law. He’s requesting extra spending in some cases and cutbacks in others. In a statement Thursday, Northam said he believed these changes were necessary. 

“These changes are important because the economic effects of COVID-19 remain unclear and much of its potential long-term impact will depend on events yet to come—such as the successful development and distribution of a vaccine—and possible changes to the pandemic response at the national level,” Northam said. “Both of these critical next steps are profoundly uncertain right now. Amidst so much uncertainty at a national level, Virginians and our economy must remain vigilant and takes steps to maintain financial flexibility.” 

He wants to set aside $1 million to fund an independent investigation into the culture at the Virginia Military Institute. This isn’t much of a surprise. In fact, last month Northam said he planned to ask the General Assembly for the money. 

Over the last four months, Black cadets and alumni have repeatedly asked for changes at the school. They told the Washington Post about a place where lynching threats occured and faculty spoke openly about praising the Confederacy. That was enough for Gov. Northam, himself a 1981 graduate of the school. 

He called for a non-partisan, national organization to compare VMI’s culture to other Virginia universities, with a report due by the end of the year. That’s where the $1 million would go. 

“This [money] is necessary to provide us with the facts needed to craft a path forward for the Institute,” Northam said in Thursday’s budget statement. 

VMI’s superintendent tendered his resignation late last month.

RELATED: VMI Board of Visitors Agrees to Move Stonewall Jackson Statue 

Governor asks to cut transportation projects

In addition to spending money on the investigation, Northam asked the General Assembly to remove money for two transportation projects from the budget. That includes the planned Nimmo Parkway in Virginia Beach and a new airport hanger in Accomack. The request removes $12 million in assigned funding, $10 million for Nimmo and $2 million for the hanger. 

The second phase of the Nimmo Parkway would stretch from Albuquerque Drive in Virginia Beach to the western end of Sandbridge Road. The key part here for residents is a new bridge over Asheville Bridge Creek, one designed a bit higher, to manage any future flooding. Northam argued that before receiving funds, both projects need to fully go through the state’s review process. 

“These public reviews allow for full transparency by weighing different transportation projects against each other, but these projects instead aim to “jump the line.” They do not warrant special treatment, and they should face the same level of review as every other transportation project,” Northam said. 

RELATED: So What Got Approved in Virginia’s New Budget? 

No more priority for nursing homes

Currently, nursing homes and assisted living facilities take priority when it comes to COVID-19 testing. Over the last seven months, Virginia long-term care facilities counted for 38 outbreaks, with 19 coming from Oct. 1 to the present day.  

Northam’s amendment would remove that testing priority for nursing homes. Instead, he wants to let the Virginia Department of Health decide what to focus on. 

“This will allow VDH to rely on their current process for planning and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments,” Northam said. Nursing homes and long-term facilities would be included in that. 

Nursing homes worked over the last two months to come up with reopening plans. In order to bring in visitors again, each has to meet certain criteria. 

Northam’s amendment also allows personal care and grooming services to stop wearing masks in certain situations. But, Northam cautioned, they still have to follow health department guidelines. 

“[This allows] the licensed individuals to practice safely and effectively, and may require enhanced safety precautions in the absence of a customer face covering,” Northam wrote. 

That means if you’re not wearing a mask, you may have to find an alternative like a face shield.

Beyond those requests, Northam also set out a series of “language” amendments, just adjusting how something is presented in the budget. For example, one request would extend the Water Quality Enhancement Fee and put together a workgroup to look at its long-term viability. Another “adjusts Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations to be consistent with amounts already approved or executed.”

Some are regional, such as a request to let the Charlottesville and Smithfield Department of Motor Vehicles offices relocate to more “cost-effective” spaces. Others expand the criteria for grant funding, so that more of the groups working on COVID-19 vaccines can apply for financial help. The final amendment simply signs off on the redistricting proposal that passed in last week’s election. It gives authorization to set up the commission.

In addition to requesting the amendments, Northam signed off Thursday on sentencing changes. Now judges, rather than juries, will decide a person’s sentence.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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