Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

Happy New Year! I hope each of you enters 2020 and this new decade with a sense of purpose and optimism.

The General Assembly will convene for its annual session on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. This year marks a “long session” — a new budget must be passed to cover the next biennium (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2022). Last month, Governor Northam announced his proposed budget for the biennium. The proposal contains significant investments in K-12 education, public higher education, the environment, affordable housing, and equitable health outcomes. While the proposals are a baseline and will undoubtedly undergo analysis, scrutiny, and debate in both the House and the Senate, it is worth calling attention to several important investments.

A historic $1.2 billion investment in K-12 education

This investment includes a 3 percent raise for teachers, the largest increase in funding for educationally at-risk students in Virginia’s history, funding for additional school counselors at every level, and significant new flexible funds available for local school divisions.

These investments will help address two sobering statistics: Virginia lands in the bottom third nationwide for average teacher pay and 40 percent of Virginia’s public K-12 students are economically disadvantaged.

Growing a talent pipeline for in-demand jobs through Virginia’s Community Colleges

The Governor has proposed a $145 million investment to make tuition-free community college available to low and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields necessary for Virginia’s continued economic growth. The “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3), will provide financial support for tuition, fees, and books for eligible students.

Virginia has a critical shortage of talent in “middle skill” positions across the Commonwealth and we must provide an accessible and affordable pathway for those willing to put in the effort to study and secure a degree or credential that leads to a job in a high-demand field.

Protecting the environment and growing clean energy resources

The environment and clean energy remain a high priority for the Governor with a $733 million investment in a variety of areas including Chesapeake Bay cleanup, clean energy infrastructure, offshore wind energy projects, and land conservation. These investments will help keep the Commonwealth towards meeting important metrics such as a 2025 deadline for bay cleanup and restoration and a 2026 goal of generating 2,500 megawatts of energy from offshore wind.

Improving and increasing housing stability in the Commonwealth

The Governor’s proposed budget includes $92 million in new funding to help address housing affordability, eviction rates, and supportive housing. The proposal includes funding for small but potentially impactful initiatives such as an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program. I applaud these important investments into an issue that disproportionately affects persons of color. A 2015 study showed that 54.7 percent of African-American households were rent-burdened or affected by housing instability compared to 42.7 percent of white households. A recent Boston study found mortality rates for homeless adults to be as much as nine times higher than the general population.

The Governor’s proposed budget also deposits $300 million into the Commonwealth’s Reserve Fund, which would grow to $1.9 billion. This would mark the highest reserve fund level in the Commonwealth’s history and is integral to help protect Virginia’s excellent Triple-A bond rating, which enables the Commonwealth to finance projects at a much lower interest rate than many other states.

These proposals highlighted above are forward-looking but also structurally-balanced. I will continue to update you on legislation through the General Assembly session and am fortunate to be supported by an all-star staff. Returning this year for her 22nd legislative session is Chief of Staff, Janet Muldoon, who will be joined by Andrew Dolan serving as Legislative Assistant.  Team Saslaw is rounded out by an Administrative Assistant, who is a ten-year veteran to our office, as well as interns from the University of Richmond and VCU. Due to the inordinate amount of emails, phone calls, and visitors we see daily, I want to thank you in advance for your continued support and patience during what is anticipated to be a very busy and productive General Assembly.

We will be transitioning to the Richmond office over the next week and will be able to be reached at 804-698-7535 or district35@senate.virginia.gov during session.