Coronavirus reshapes Virginia’s budget

Virginia lawmakers are headed back to work in Richmond, faced with a completely different economy than they had back on March 12 when they passed their $135 billion two-year budget.

Reconvened sessions normally happen on the sixth Wednesday after adjournment of each regular or special session, but the circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s session are anything but normal.

Lawmakers will need to reshape their entire budget, moving billions of dollars around to help the state fight the coronavirus pandemic and to account for a loss of tax revenue.

With businesses shut down and unemployment soaring, revenue from income and sales taxes has plummeted.

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“We are certainly in very, very different times,” said Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s finance secretary. “We really cannot get a handle on how quickly we are going to back up and how quickly businesses are going to return to profitability.”

Gov. Ralph Northam is asking lawmakers to freeze nearly $3 billion in new spending.

Northam also wants about $600 million that was originally slated for the state’s reserve funds to be used to fight the pandemic.

“We hope that that’s the worst it can be, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t be worse than that,” said Layne. “It’s difficult because of uncertainty.”

Due to social distancing guidelines, the two chambers of the state’s government will not even be meeting in the state Capitol.

The House of Delegates will meet outside the Capitol building under a canopy while state senators gather a couple miles away from there at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Aside from the budget, lawmakers will debate various proposals from Northam including plans to move local elections from May to November and to delay the start of a minimum wage increase.

The state’s minimum wage is supposed to go from $7.25 per hour to $9.50 in January of 2021, but Northam wants to push that date back to May 1.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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