Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service
Gov. Ralph Northam delivered the State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly on Wednesday evening. The governor outlined key parts of his proposed budget and announced legislative priorities on what he called a “historic night.”
Throughout the address, Northam highlighted the changes Virginia underwent in the last decade.
“Virginia is changing. These are simply facts,” Northam said. “In politics over these past 10 years, if you understood these facts and you embraced change, then you advanced. If not, you fell behind.”
Northam cited the state’s growth in population by more than half a million people in the last decade, its low unemployment rate, 2.6% in November, and a booming stock market as signs of change. He also noted the obstacles Virginia faces amid change such as stagnating wages, funding transportation infrastructure and rising sea levels in places like Tangier Island and Hampton Roads.
Northam said the state’s transformation is reflected in the General Assembly. Wednesday marked the first time in more than two decades that Democrats controlled the legislative and executive branches of state government. A record 41 women now hold seats in the statehouse, and there is more diversity among legislators. On Wednesday, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, became the first woman elected to serve as speaker of the House, while Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, became both the first woman and the first African American to serve as House majority leader.
“It’s a proud moment to look out and see a General Assembly that reflects, more than ever, the Virginia we see every day,” Northam said.
Northam detailed key parts of his proposed budget. He announced that 38% of new spending in his proposed budget would go to education.
“This is far and away the largest new investment we have proposed,” Northam said.
Investment in K-12 public schools would go toward teacher salary increases and more guidance counselors in schools, Northam said. He also announced the “G-3” proposal, which stands for “Get Skilled, Get a Job, and Give Back.” The proposal seeks to offer free community college tuition for low and middle income students seeking to go into high demand fields like health care and information technology. The plan would cover tuition, fees and book costs for people who need help paying for school.
Noting last year’s Medicaid expansion in Virginia, Northam outlined his proposed healthcare budget, which includes funding for more health care workers in communities with high needs, a state-run health care marketplace and funding for new mothers to get more home visits from health care workers.
“We all want it to be more affordable and easier to understand,” Northam said of health care.
Northam reaffirmed his plans to have 30% of Virginia’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030, and for Virginia’s energy to be 100% carbon free by 2050. The governor announced his plan to create an Office of Offshore Wind to promote the use of clean energy.
“This means thousands of advanced manufacturing jobs for Hampton Roads,” Northam said. “This will create an entire new clean-energy industry here in Virginia.”
Northam also called for gun control reform.
“Gun violence takes the lives of more than 1,000 Virginians every year, three people every day. At that rate, everyone on the floor of this chamber would be gone by March,” Northam said.
Northam called for universal background checks in order to buy a gun, noting that it wouldn’t be in violation of the Second Amendment to do so.
Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, delivered the Republican response to Northam’s address.
While we Republicans are disappointed to see our two decades in the majority come to an end, we’re proud of the commonwealth we leave to our Democratic successors,” Robinson said.
“Some of the proposals being advanced by Governor Northam and the Democrat legislative majority will have a profoundly negative effect on Virginia’s working families,” Suetterlein stated in the released statement. “If implemented, the Democrats’ agenda will place a substantial burden on working Virginians.”
Suetterlein said that Democratic proposals will lead to higher electric bills, higher fuel prices and higher taxes.
The governor’s full speech can be read here.