Lawmakers are returning to Richmond to figure out how to spend more than four billion dollars of federal stimulus money.
Democrats are quietly negotiating behind the scenes in advance of the special session next month. The governor has already announced some of his priorities, including grant programs for small businesses, money for tourism and investments into broadband. But that still leaves a lot of room for interest groups to advocate.
Barry DuVal at the Chamber of Commerce says some of that federal stimulus cash can be used to help businesses.
"We think that keeping the cost of having employees down is important, and history has shown federal dollars have often been used to restore the unemployment trust fund," DuVal says. "Without this, the cost to employ someone is significant.”
Critics say making a large deposit into the unemployment trust fund could prevent business taxes from going up, but they say that should be balanced against spending that could help families. Chris Wodicka at the Commonwealth Institute says investments into public education should be focused on getting the best bang for the buck.
"There has been a concern that the funds are really mostly directed toward upgrades and renovations as opposed to new construction," Wodicka explains. "And I know that's something that some folks in the education world are concerned about because they see that as maybe the wrong priority."
He says lawmakers could help fill in the gaps in federal stimulus programs, helping families that weren’t eligible for stimulus checks or people who were excluded from expanded unemployment benefits.