The Virginia House’s version of the state’s two-year budget that passed Tuesday primarily deals with the financial losses and other obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed a significantly stripped down budget in April in light of the prospective economic decline and requested the General Assembly to re-evaluate some proposals during a special session in light of new economic forecasts.
The House spending proposal maintains the crux of the original cuts but includes potential funding increases for state employees and other initiatives that go into effect only if the state has enough revenue to fund them. The budget also includes additional guaranteed money for education to offset a loss of funding, assistance for people who have been unable to pay their rent and utility bills, and funding for broadband.
A portion of Virginia’s education budget is reliant on sales tax revenue, which has declined since the pandemic hit. An amendment approved with bipartisan support would allocate $95.2 million in revenue accrued by skilled gaming machines to offset that loss for fiscal 2021. It would be a one-time allocation that is not intended to become precedent for future education funding, Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, said on the House floor.
The budget also allocates $55 million in general fund revenue to expand access to affordable housing, provide rental assistance and support the homeless in fiscal 2021. The budget language would allow eligible renters to apply for funding to pay for the entirety of their back rent and allow landlords to pursue evictions only after they have applied for the aid for their tenants.
To assist renters who have been negatively affected by COVID-19, the budget would appropriate about $120 million in COVID-19 relief funds to pay