According to the Virginia Education Association (VEA), Virginia ranks 40th in the country in direct pupil aid, down an estimated eight percent since the recession when adjusted for inflation. Virginia ranks 32nd in teacher salary, lagging $8,500 behind the national average.
Those numbers are more depressing when you take into account a 2019 five percent pay raise for teachers, which was the largest single-year raise in 15 years. Infrastructure is also suffering just last week George Mason Elementary was closed due to a busted pipe.
“It’s way past time for them to live up to their obligations to the children of this Commonwealth and to the people who work with them!” boomed VEA President Jim Livingston to an enthusiastic crowd of over 2,000, who responded raucously as Livingston added a promise: “We will be ever vigilant to hold them accountable for what they’ve promised they would do—and if they don’t vote to support our students and our schools, we’ll help them pack their stuff and go!”
Governor Northam Announces General Assembly to Convene August 18
The special session will focus on budget, criminal, and social justice reform.
Governor Ralph Northam today announced he is calling the General Assembly into special session on Tuesday, August 18, following the Governor’s traditional end-of-fiscal-year report to the General Assembly’s money committees. A special session is necessary to adopt a budget based on the revised revenue forecast in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Governor Northam will work closely with legislative leaders and advocates to propose additional criminal justice and policing reform.
“I look forward to bringing legislators back in session as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times,” said Governor Northam. “We have a unique opportunity to provide critical support to Virginians, invest strategically in our economic recovery, and make progress on policing and criminal justice reform. Let’s get to work.”
The General Assembly will meet to adopt a final budget, a process that was postponed earlier in the year due to COVID-19. In April, Governor Northam worked with legislators to “unallot,” or freeze, over $2.2 billion in new spending in Virginia’s new biennial budget. This strategy allowed time for the Commonwealth’s fiscal outlook to stabilize and avoided major cuts to important new programs and state services. Legislators will now consider a number of items previously “unalloted”—including the Governor’s historic investments in early childhood education, tuition-free community college, affordable housing, and broadband.
Policing initiatives are expected to include measures aimed at police accountability and oversight, use of force, increased training and education, and officer recruitment, hiring, and decertification. Governor Northam has directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to assist the administration in developing policy initiatives. The Governor will continue to work closely with legislators and community advocates on specific legislative proposals.
The full text of Governor Northam’s proclamation is available here.
Mayor Stoney Appoints New Police Chief
Gerald Smith, Deputy Police Chief in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, is the new Richmond Police Chief.
Interim Police Chief William “Jody” Blackwell announced on Friday that he was stepping down as Interim Police Chief. Blackwell’s brief term of 10 days was marked by violent actions towards peaceful protestors and extensive use of teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other non-lethal methods.
In a move that surprised everyone Mayor Stoney the same day announced that he was appointing Gerald Smith, Deputy Police Chief in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, as the department’s new chief. In his prior position as Deputy Police Chief, Smith oversaw criminal investigations including domestic violence, crimes against children, sexual assault, and homicide.
“Deputy Chief Gerald Smith is who Richmond needs right now – a reform-minded leader with deep experience in community policing and de-escalation,” said Mayor Stoney. (Full Press Release Here)
The Charlottesville-Mecklenburg police department currently faces legal action over its use of “riot control” agents during a peaceful June 2 rally.
Meanwhile the very next day. This ad runs in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The lack of any community involvement in the hiring decision hasn’t sat well with many citizens.
The city paid for this ad in today’s newspaper… pic.twitter.com/PKd3CGLxcU
— Mark Robinson (@__MarkRobinson) June 28, 2020
Legislature delays minimum wage increase amid budget concerns
The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.
By Will Gonzalez
Labor advocates and Virginia legislators worried the recently passed bill to increase minimum wage might die during the reconvened General Assembly session Wednesday.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendment deferred the start date of the original bill by four months in response to the economic blow dealt to the state from the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendation was one of many made to trim the $135 billion, two-year budget passed in the spring. Republican lawmakers wanted to reject the amendment in order to stall the passage of the bill and have the governor amend it further.
During the relocated Senate floor session held at the Science Museum of Virginia, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, argued that now is a risky time to consider raising the minimum wage given the COVID-19 crisis. He said the legislature should reject the governor’s recommendation and send the bill back for reconsideration.
“Voting ‘no’ on this amendment keeps this issue alive,” Obenshain said. “It sends it back to the governor, and the governor has one more chance to do what’s right, not just for businesses, but for workers.”
Lawmakers who oppose minimum wage increases argued that those working minimum wage jobs in Virginia are young people entering the workforce, not people trying to support families. Other legislators pointed to the essential workers now serving the public from the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, many of whom make minimum wage.
“Quite frankly I find it hard to believe we’ve got people in here who don’t think somebody working full time in any job should earn at least $19,600 a year,” said Senate majority leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “There’s no one in here … that would work for that kind of wage. No one.”
There were impassioned pleas from several House members to accept the recommendation instead of risking the bill being vetoed, though one delegate voiced resentment at having to make the choice. Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, said the COVID-19 crisis has spotlit “one of the most glaring contradictions in our economy” — that workers paid the least are often deemed most essential to society.
“We are saying to these people ‘you are not worth a pay raise come January,’” Carter said. “I’m not gonna fault anyone that votes ‘yes’ on this, for taking the sure thing four months later rather than taking the chance, but if that’s what we’re gonna do … I can’t be any part of it.” Carter did not cast a vote on the amendment.
Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, said that some legislators’ notion that families don’t depend on minimum wage is a myth.
“I’m glad they acknowledge that there are people in Virginia who cannot live off minimum wage,” Guzman said. “Actually, what they do is they get a second job, or a third job in order to make ends meet.” Guzman immigrated to the U.S. from Peru at the age of 18 and worked three jobs to afford a one bedroom apartment.
The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Saslaw and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.
The wage will then increase to $11 in 2022, $12 in 2023 and by another $1.50 in 2025 and 2026. Every subsequent year the bill is to be re-amended to adjust the minimum wage to reflect the consumer price index.
Virginia’s cost of living index is very close to the national average, but it ranks in the top four among states where the minimum wage equals the federal rate of $7.25, according to an analysis of data from the Missouri Economic Research and Development Center.
Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said now is not the time for Virginia to turn its back on low wage workers.
“We have been fighting for a decade to push for people who are working hard to make ends meet, to support their families and to be able to do so with dignity,” Scholl said. “That’s what raising the minimum wage is about.”