Since I took office, Virginia has been recognized at the national level for its business-friendly economy, strength of workforce and public education, and the overall quality of life of its residents. We have moved in the direction of being a more inclusive and equitable Commonwealth for our residents. There is much more work to be done and I will continue to work to create more economic opportunity and security as well as enhance the overall quality of life across the Commonwealth.
During my campaign for Lt. Governor, I identified key areas that I would focus on during my term as Lt. Governor. We have made progress on each of those priority areas.
I am determined to make sure that Virginians and their families are able to improve their lives through greater economic opportunity and stability. When people feel that they have economic opportunity and the chance to build better lives for themselves and their children, our entire society benefits. Opportunity is the oxygen of a healthy democracy.
During my term as Lt. Governor, Virginia has been a national leader in employment and job creation. As of July 2019, Virginia’s unemployment rate stood at 2.9% -- the lowest in the Southeast and nearly one percent below the national unemployment rate. Virginia’s labor force has expanded for 13 straight months. Virginia has also taken steps to diversify its economy and strengthen its public education, infrastructure, and workforce development systems, all designed to promote future job growth around the Commonwealth.
One of the biggest boosts for Virginia’s economy was Amazon’s announcement that it would locate its HQ2 in Arlington. I was pleased to attend the announcement of Amazon’s $2.5 billion investment the new headquarters that will create more than 25,000 high-paying jobs over 12 years. Virginia successfully secured the project after a competition that included proposals from 238 communities across North America. In addition to Amazon’s 25,000 direct jobs and its $2.5 billion in capital investment in Virginia, the Commonwealth estimates Amazon’s presence will lead to the creation of more than 22,000 related indirect jobs in Virginia. The new HQ2 also led to Virginia Tech announcing plans to build a new campus nearby that will lead to additional innovation and job growth.
By creating a welcoming environment, promoting innovation and small businesses, a strong educational system, building positive relationships with the U.S. military and veterans, investments in key infrastructure projects, and workforce development programs, Virginia has greatly improved the prospects for additional jobs and investments in the state.
The Amazon announcement helped Virginia regain its position as the #1 state for doing business in the annual survey by CNBC. In naming Virginia #1, CNBC noted that “The state has the nation’s best workforce, including the fourth-highest concentration of science, technology, education and math (STEM) workers. Strong school test scores, small class sizes and a wealth of colleges and universities make Virginia’s education system the best in the nation.”
When I saw a report that 5 of the top 10 cities in America with the highest rates of eviction were in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I immediately called upon numerous state and local stakeholders involved in housing our residents to get together and work out a solution. I convened roundtables in Hampton Roads and Richmond -- the two areas with cities on the Top 10 list -- to spur action.
As a result of collaboration among stakeholders and with elected officials, an Executive Order and eight successful pieces of legislation were adopted with the goal of reducing the number of evictions in Virginia through such measures as an Eviction Diversion Pilot Program, giving more time to catch up on rent payments before eviction, reducing court cases and fees, requiring written lease agreements signed by both parties, and data collection to identify how best to reduce the problem of evictions even further.
With the support of Governor Northam, the Commonwealth added $4 million to the Housing Trust Fund allowing Virginia to help communities to better invest in affordable housing and improve its communities; and with an additional $1.5 million ordered by the General Assembly, the total trust fund budget increased to $9.5 million.
Governor Northam stated that “These measures establish important consumer protections, help to improve housing stability for vulnerable populations, and represent a fundamental step forward in addressing Virginia’s disproportionately high eviction rates.”
At times, unique opportunities present themselves when as Lt. Governor I am able to highlight the need for Virginia to move forward from troubling elements of its past. When I was asked to adjourn the Senate in honor of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, I chose not to do so. Instead, I peacefully protested the Senate action by stepping off the dais and requested that the President Pro Tempore take my place. As only the second African American statewide official ever elected in Virginia and the descendant of enslaved Africans, I could not preside over an action honoring those who sought to extend slavery’s presence in the Commonwealth and beyond. Instead, I sat quietly on the bench used by the Senate Pages and contemplated the June 5, 1798 manumission document by which Lord Thomas Fairfax freed my great-great-great grandfather Simon Fairfax from slavery in Virginia.
I was proud to stand with Governor Northam as he signed legislation expanding healthcare access to over 400,000 Virginians. As Medicaid expansion made its way through the legislative process, I broke ties and cast four decisive votes in the Senate to ensure passage.
Medicaid expansion gives Virginians access to quality, low-cost and no-cost health insurance. By recovering $2.4 billion in federal taxes already being paid by Virginians, the expansion covers up to an additional 400,000 Virginians, 70% of whom earn less than $32,000 for a family of four or $15,302 for an individual. Since its implementation, over 300,00 Virginians have enrolled.
The state’s two-year budget also adds $189 million in new funding for behavioral health and developmental services, including $84.1 million for community mental health services and $67 million to expand services for people with developmental disabilities.
The state’s two-year budget increased funding for K-12 education by more than $530 million and provided for a 3% pay increase for state-supported teachers and support staff, the largest one-time pay raise in the last 15 years.
As a member of Governor Northam’s Children’s Cabinet, I have worked to develop sound policies for childhood for childhood development, school readiness, and increasing safety for our schools and for the children of the Commonwealth.
During my term, historic funding levels for the Metro system in Northern Virginia were approved in Virginia. Together with companion actions at the federal level and in Maryland and the District of Columbia, Metro will have a dedicated funding source of $500 million per year to stabilize its finances, improve maintenance, grow the system’s footprint, modernize its railcars, and issue bonds to spread out payments for capital improvements. As an economic asset that drives the region’s economy, this commitment to Metro supports business development, expansion, and recruitment.
In addition to providing critical revenue for capital investments, getting Metro back on track will mean implementing commonsense governance and oversight reforms. As part of the funding package, Metro must streamline its board of directors, provide annual reports on performance and safety, and adopt a six-year capital improvement program. The package also caps growth in Metro’s operating budget at three percent a year in Virginia.
The additional funds Port expansion will help keep Norfolk competitive by increasing its capacity by 40%, allowing for an additional 1 million containers.
The state’s two year budget also added $350 million to advance planning and engineering requirements and to fund capital projects to widen and dredge the Norfolk Harbor Channel and Elizabeth River.
An additional $7.9 million was included to improve and expand access to broadband throughout Rural Virginia, connecting more than 31,000 unserved homes and businesses.
Virginia has maintained the lowest recidivism rate in the nation for three consecutive years. Our nationally recognized correctional practices and offender reentry programs provide assistance and support to Virginians returning to their communities, helping ensure that these citizens have an opportunity to be successful. Programs that help people succeed in the community after release from incarceration improve lives, reduce crime, and save taxpayers money.
During my term, Virginia has enacted a package of criminal justice reforms that begins the process of ensuring that one mistake does not define a person’s entire life. The package included raising the felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500 so that Virginia was no longer the state with the lowest threshold. This was the first time the threshold was raised in nearly 40 years. In so doing, Virginia also reaffirmed its commitment to supporting victims of crimes by taking steps to ensure that court-ordered restitution to victims of crimes is appropriately collected and distributed.
I also supported legislation to prohibit courts from suspending the driving privileges of individuals who are unable to pay court fines and costs and eliminating the $145 reinstatement fee for those who had their licenses suspended. This change could improve the lives of over 600,000 Virginians with suspended licenses. The legislative process focused attention on how difficult it is for people to earn the money to pay costs and fees if they cannot drive.
This new policy will allow Virginians to continue taking care of their families and drive to work while also working on repaying court fines and costs. As one advocate described the real-life concerns: "Getting to and from working, being able to pick your kids up from sporting events, insurance rates because you have to be licensed to have insurance on your vehicle. If you don’t, it drives your insurance rates up…Maybe my kid didn’t get to school because I didn’t have the transportation and the bus didn’t come close enough.”
Throughout my time as a candidate and elected official, I have pushed strongly for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. I have been proud to encourage the efforts of the Department of Juvenile Justice to continue its comprehensive structural and cultural transformation of its facilities, programs, and community-based services. This initiative reduces the number of youth who would otherwise end up in secure confinement. By reinvesting the resulting savings into community programs and services that use evidence-based alternatives to confinement, we are reducing crime, increasing public safety, and enhancing outcomes for our youth. Virginia has safely reduced the population of youth in state-operated Juvenile Correctional Centers by more than half.
Actively supported statewide effort to increase the number of racially and ethnically diverse Judges, Prosecutors, and Public Defenders in Virginia's Justice System. ...with the support from the Virginia Coalition for Racial Diversity in the Justice System successfully led efforts to increase the number of minority judges on the trial court bench in Northern Virginia.
Vetoed legislation that would have created unnecessary obstacles to voter registration in the Commonwealth and undermine Virginians’ voting rights. ”since he took office just over a year ago, his administration has restored the civil rights of 10,992 Virginians previously convicted of a felony. The civil rights restored include the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for public office, and become a notary public, women’s rights, and LGBT rights.
When I was elected in 2017, I became the first statewide elected official in recent history not to accept money from Virginia’s regulated electric utilities. My pioneering effort has been copied by many elected officials since that time.
I was the only 2017 statewide general election candidate to express skepticism about the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, saying that the case for their construction had not been made. In office, I made it a point to sit down with people from all sides of the pipeline debate, particularly with representatives of historically African American communities in Buckingham County and the City of Chesapeake affected by the pipeline route. I take seriously the need for environmental justice so that the burden of infrastructure is not concentrated in poorer areas or areas where people of color make up the majority of the population.
In my role as Lt. Governor, I have provided counsel to the Northam Administration as to its efforts to ensure that the pipelines approved by the federal government are completed with the least disruption to the people of the Commonwealth as possible.
Northam’s most recent executive order sets the state goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. The order sets an intermediate goal of powering 30% of the state’s electric system by 2030 and aims to procure at least 30% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2022.
Developed and launched ConserveVirginia, a data-driven, land conservation tool that identifies high value lands and conservation sites across the state.
Released a strong, detailed, and practical plan to reduce pollution to its portion of the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal rivers that feed it…It's the final push to meet cleanup goals outlined in the historic Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Grounded in science and a federal-state partnership, the blueprint requires all six states that share the Bay watershed, and the District of Columbia, to reduce pollution. It sets a 2025 deadline for implementing measures that will provide clean, safe water and vibrant wildlife in our rivers, streams, and the Bay. The commonwealth is on track to meet its blueprint goals, thanks to investments in wastewater treatment technology, steps to limit pollution from development, and on-farm conservation practices