State Lawmakers Working on Virginia's Budget

Feb 10, 2021

Lawmakers in Richmond are trying to balance the books during a pandemic and an economic crisis.

Last year, lawmakers started using a new word to talk about the budget -- “unallotted.” All the priority spending items of the new Democratic majority had to be unallotted and put off for some time in the future.

Senate Finance Chairwoman Janet Howell recalls how difficult that was, and what it means now for the current budget.

"While there have been hardships, I've also seen resilience and adaptation to what we have faced collectively and individually," Howell says. "Putting together the Virginia budget multiple times this year has required the same adaptation and at times redirection as our economy has fluctuated."

Credit NPR

Marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform will be important parts of the budget, both in terms of spending and revenue. Virginia is expected to eventually pull in more than $500 million a year in new revenue when commercial sales begin.

Until that happens, though, Senator Louise Lucas says investments need to be made into expunging old criminal records and setting up a new Cannabis Control Authority.

"The long-term impact of prohibition on recreational marijuana use has had a profound impact on minority communities," she says. "High levels of incarceration and criminal record histories have limited options for individuals in the job market and their ability to better themselves and their families."

House budget leaders have their own rival proposal, funding things like paid leave for essential workers and a 5% raise for teachers. House and Senate leaders hope to come to some kind of resolution by the end of February.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.