“This is no ordinary year,” Governor Ralph Northam announced with his signature smile to the House Appropriations, House Finance, and Senate Finance Committees as he convened Virginia’s General Assembly for the 2020 Special Session. Governor Northam continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, our economy, and our budget.” The governor’s remarks come as no surprise. COVID-19 has brought a myriad of unprecedented challenges to the Commonwealth. At the crux of these challenges is a projected $2.7 billion revenue shortfall over the biennium. A shortfall that is made even more acute by the fact that prior to the economic recession, Virginia had experienced some of the strongest metrics in more than two decades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in February 2020, the unemployment rate sat at a remarkably low 2.7%. Just two months later, at the height of lockdown and business closures, the rate had risen to nearly 11.2%. Although the latest statistics for June show the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.4%, this is hardly cause for celebration.

During the Great Recession, the unemployment rate in the Commonwealth peaked in February 2010 at 7.5%, or 0.9% lower than the current rate. While this may seem like an insignificant figure, in humanistic terms, 0.9% of the Commonwealth’s labor force equates to a population adjusted figure of more than 38,000 Virginians who are unable to find gainful employment – or just under the populations of the cities of Hopewell and Colonial Heights combined.

To right the listing economy and accomplish the necessary budget reductions, Governor Northam has stated his intent to not reinstate spending on some of his top priorities, such as pay raises for teachers and state workers, investments in behavioral and mental health, and reductions in public university tuition. In their stead, Northam proposed a variety of measures aimed at public health and economic relief, such as $88M for eviction relief and affordable housing, $85M for expanding access to broadband internet, criminal justice reforms such as increased consistency in law enforcement training and oversight, and easing some of the administrative burden associated with absentee voting. Governor Northam’s proposals include no state employee layoffs or cuts to critical services.

To watch the 2020 Special Session live or access the recorded sessions, use the following links:

Virginia House of Delegates Video Streaming: https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php

Virginia SSenate Live Session Video Stream: https://virginia-senate.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3

Bradley Shipp is a Virginia Management Fellow currently working at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services.

  1.   U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Area Unemployment Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/lauhsthl.htm
  2.   U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), VA Economy at a Glance: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.va.htm
  3.   U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), VA Economy at a Glance: https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.va.htm
  4.   U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2010 VA Historical Data: https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet