Northam signs $135B two-year state budget
$2 billion in new spending paused; COVID-19 relief fund created
Gov. Ralph Northam signed the amended 2021-22 state budget Thursday, which paused $2 billion in new spending initiatives to instead respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s economic crisis.
Although spending on early childhood education, environmental protection and workforce training was curtailed, the $135 billion biennial budget includes a coronavirus relief fund to assist Virginians with housing insecurity and small business loans, as well as funding nursing homes, where COVID-19 has struck particularly hard. Tax revenue from so-called “gray machines,” slot-like games that were set to be banned this year in Virginia, will go to the relief fund. Northam said in April he will sign a ban on the machines no later than 2021.
On April 22, the House of Delegates met under a large tent on the Virginia State Capitol grounds, donning masks and keeping six feet of distance from fellow lawmakers and staff members, while the state Senate gathered in a large room at the Science Museum of Virginia.
The reconfigured budget, which takes effect July 1, delayed the statewide increase of the hourly minimum wage to $9.50 from Jan. 1, 2021 to May 1, as a concession to struggling small businesses. Ultimately, the wage is expected to rise to $12 an hour by 2023.
Northam signed the following legislation Thursday:
- Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 972, which decriminalize simple marijuana possession;
- Senate Bill 215, requiring the state Board of Corrections to publish an annual report of reviews of deaths that occur in jails;
- Senate Bill 251, which establishes licensure and other requirements for pharmacy benefits managers;
- Senate Bill 891, which regulates pet shops.
Northam vetoed identical Senate and House bills that established association health plans and a Senate bill that created a multiple-employer health plan, which the governor’s administration argued could increase insurance costs for sicker Virginians despite lowering costs for others. Northam said this week that he will appoint a work group to develop legislation for the 2021 General Assembly session addressing the health care marketplace costs.
Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation made possible by the Democratic Party’s control of both houses for the first time in three decades, including gun control, criminal justice reform and reproductive rights measures, as well as legalizing casino gambling in the commonwealth, which has bipartisan support. Four out of the five cities where casinos are legally permitted are expected to have referendums on local ballots this November.