Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

It is with great sorrow we learned of the passing of Falls Church Councilman Dan Sze. Dan served our community with compassion, thoughtfulness, and championed the best for the City. His style was punctuated with good humor and the ability to hone in on the essence of key issues. The Honorable Dan Sze, may you rest in peace. To his wife and all the others left to mourn, we extend our heartfelt condolences.

We are roughly three months away from the most consequential election of our lifetime. While that phrase seems trite, make no mistake this is not “fake news.” The history books will ultimately document the follies of a president who suggested drinking bleach as a potential cure for the pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 150,000 Americans. You are living witness to what has been a long-recurring nightmare in our nation and on the world stage. To even suggest that the most democratic exercise of hard-fought freedoms, the Nov. 3rd general election, should be delayed is the most compelling reason you need to act and VOTE.

This election will be like none other in recent times. The coronavirus will be a dominant factor for registering voters as well as where and how ballots are cast. Visions of the morning after the 2016 presidential election should be all the reason you need to participate in electing the next president.

Mark your calendar now to ensure that your vote counts. If necessary, update your registration. Apply for your absentee ballot EARLY and return it as soon as possible. Voting absentee does not require an excuse. The electoral board can process the request for a ballot as many as 45 days before the election.

In a few short weeks, the General Assembly will convene in a Special Session to take up the budget, Covid-19-related issues needing immediate attention, and policing along with criminal justice reform. The Special Session beginning Aug. 18 will bring all 140 legislators together for the first time since the Reconvene Session in April. In what seems like ages ago, earlier this year we constructed a spending plan that was structurally sound and balanced based on revenue forecasts from a burgeoning economy. Nearly five months into the pandemic, coronavirus has had a chilling effect on those plans.

The Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates met on Monday, Aug. 3. In late July, the Joint Advisory Board of Economists met to assess the interim revenue forecast. You don’t have to be a CPA to realize a dramatic change materialized as we ended the fiscal year.

It is usual and customary (and I might add prudent) that we used the best data to make fiscally-sound decisions when we developed the biennial budget. In August, the outlook we are likely to embrace will be significantly less rosy than what previously passed the General Assembly. The lead up to the Special Session resembles a game of whack-a-mole. From Alzheimer’s to the arts, education to evictions, as well as every other facet of our lives impacted by this pandemic that is raising its hand asking to “fund me.” The bottom line — the needs are real and abundant.

Priorities will be reconsidered and funding reallocated. Coronavirus demands are setting the stage for differences of opinion on how best to spend tax dollar revenues. With each passing month during this pandemic, previously-identified investments in key areas now resemble a clearance tag at a T.J. Maxx sale with many lines through the original number.

Unemployment continues to be a dominant side effect of the coronavirus beast. Across the country, GDP shrank by an annualized rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter. That domino also fell in the Commonwealth, leaving 344,826 Virginians unemployed. NOVA saw a slight decline in the overall weekly unemployment claims filed. However, closing out July, 46,524 individuals filed initial (first time) VEC claims for unemployment benefits. All of this comes ahead of the expiration of CARES Act funding.

This virus has not gone away, and it is imperative that we do our part to stay well. Wear a facial covering, socially distance, and wash your hands. Look for opportunities to support your neighbors. Food shortages are real. Blood banks are asking for donations. We’re in this together and together we will prevail.

Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.