Virginia tax coffers continue to overflow; surplus expected

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By Associated Press | Published Jun. 14, 2021 12:50 p.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia state government continues to bring in more revenue than expected, with a new report showing the state has brought in more than 98 percent of its anticipated annual revenue with a full month remaining in the fiscal year.

The monthly revenue report issued Friday by Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne shows that through the first 11 months of the fiscal year, the state has brought in $21.97 billion in revenue.

Projected revenue for the entire fiscal year, which ends June 30, is $22.32 billion.

That puts the state on course for a revenue surplus exceeding $1 billion.

May revenue was up 66 percent over May 2020. That’s largely because the state income tax deadline this year was May 17. Last year the deadline was pushed back to June 1.

In a press release Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated the news as a sign of a strong economy. He also announced that Deputy Secretary of Finance Joe Flores will take over as secretary beginning July 1, when Layne is scheduled to leave his post for the private sector.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Gov. Northam’s return to work incentive for small business

shenandoah valley workforce development board

Governor Northam announced a $3 million investment to pilot a Return to Earn Grant Program.

The plan matches payments from eligible small businesses to provide new hires with up to $1,000 to support a back into the workforce incentive.

Serving businesses with less than 100 employees who might not have resources to provide financial support for new hires.

Small businesses can apply and find out more at their Virginia Career Works Center.

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Virginia offers a website on marijuana legalization

marijuana legalization report

With the state laws on marijuana changing on Jul. 1 Virginia started a website to answer your questions.

This new website explains what will be legal and what will not be legal as of the first.

Answers to questions about legalization are now available at cannabis.virginia.gov.

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Herring, Ayala win Democratic down-ballot races in Virginia

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By Associated Press | Published Jun. 10, 2021 6:40 a.m.

By MATTHEW BARAKAT and SARAH RANKIN

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring fended off a strong primary challenge, while Del. Hala Ayala emerged from a field of six candidates to win the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in Tuesday’s primary election.

Herring and Ayala will join gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe at the top of the Democratic ticket in November as the party seeks to extend a 12-year winning streak in statewide races.

Herring defeated Norfolk Del. Jay Jones in the attorney general primary, even though Jones was backed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam’s endorsed candidate fared better in the lieutenant governor race, though. Ayala was the favorite of establishment Democrats, including Northam and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, and defeated Del. Sam Rasoul, who was favored by the Democratic left.

Virginia’s off-year elections typically draw national attention as a possible bellwether for trends heading into next year’s midterms.

Republicans chose their statewide candidates in a nominating convention last month. The GOP hasn’t won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Herring won the Democratic nomination in the race for attorney general Tuesday, fending off a challenge from a state lawmaker who sought to cast Herring as insufficiently progressive.

Herring, who is seeking a third term, will face Republican state Del. Jason Miyares in the November general election.

“After eight years of unprecedented progress, we’ll have the opportunity with a Democratic majority to break progressive ground like never before,” Herring said on Twitter after he was declared the winner.

Jones conceded and tweeted that he’ll work to elect Herring and the entire Democratic ticket.

Herring is a former state senator who became attorney general in 2014 and was reelected easily in 2017. He pitched himself to voters as a progressive champion on abortion rights, gun control and immigrant-friendly policies and argued that his experience made him the best choice to keep the office in Democratic control.

Herring has touted his record battling former President Donald Trump’s policies in court, his work to eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits, his defense of marriage equality, and his efforts to hold manufacturers accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Jones, a Black 32-year-old two-term delegate, argued it was time for change and sought to cast Herring as slow to respond to the reckoning sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last summer.

He repeatedly criticized Herring, who is white, for creating an animal rights unit before an office of civil rights. Jones said that as attorney general he would use the office to more aggressively investigate police shootings.

Another issue in the sometimes-contentious race was Herring’s acknowledgement in 2019 that he had worn blackface in college.

During a debate, Jones attacked Herring not for having worn blackface but for what he described as an insincere apology at the time to the legislative Black caucus.

Jones picked up Northam’s endorsement in a move seen as a significant snub of Herring. He also had the backing of former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, the first and only woman ever elected to statewide office in Virginia, and U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria.

Many other establishment Democratic figures, including two of the state’s most powerful Black lawmakers, had endorsed Herring.

Miyares issued a statement after Herring’s victory calling the attorney general too liberal.

“Under Mark Herring’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office has become radically liberal and more dangerous,” Miyares said.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

Del. Hala Ayala, who launched her political career in 2017 in response to the election of Donald Trump, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, boosted by the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Ayala was the favorite of the Democratic establishment, and had the endorsement of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn as well as Northam. She defeated Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul, who had been a slight favorite and the preferred candidate of the party’s progressive wing.

Ayala represents parts of Prince William County and claims Afro-Latina, Irish and Lebanese heritage. Her nomination also practically ensures that Virginia will elect its first female lieutenant governor — her Republican opponent is Winsome Sears, the first Black woman to receive a major party’s endorsement for statewide office.

In a statement issued after her victory, Ayala emphasized her personal story, as she did throughout her campaign, including her father’s death to gun violence and a harrowing pregnancy where she relied on Medicaid for health care.

“I understand the struggles so many Virginia families face because I’ve lived them,” she said.

Ayala ran for delegate after helping organize the Women’s March on Washington after Trump’s election in 2016. She went on to defeat a four-term incumbent, Richard Anderson, who now chairs the Republican Party of Virginia.

Late in the campaign, Ayala accepted $100,000 from Dominion Energy’s political action committee, despite a pledge to environmental group Clean Virginia — which itself had donated $25,000 to Ayala’s campaign — that she wouldn’t do so.

Sears quickly jumped on the issue, criticizing Ayala Tuesday night after her victory for taking Dominion’s money.

“Delegate Ayala has proven that Virginians cannot trust her, that her pocket is prime for lining, and that her loyalty can be bought,” Sears said in a written statement.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and can break tie votes in a chamber that is narrowly controlled by Democrats. The post has often served as a launching pad for gubernatorial bids.

___

Barakat reported from Falls Church.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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REC helps families with energy efficiency

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A law signed by Governor Northam allows Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) help families with energy efficiency.

REC is able to help member owners invest in energy efficient upgrades for their homes.

REC will hold two informative zoom sessions on the new law June 30 10 a.m. to noon and again Aug. 26 10 a.m. to noon.

Members can find out more and register for the zoom sessions at myrec.coop under the green together headline.

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McAuliffe win sets up Virginia clash with outsider Youngkin

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By Associated Press | Published Jun. 9, 2021 7:15 a.m.

By SARAH RANKIN

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Terry McAuliffe, a longtime fixture of Democratic politics, handily won his party’s nomination for Virginia governor in his quest for a second term, setting up what’s expected to be a hotly contested general election against a wealthy businessman and political newcomer, GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, McAuliffe made the case that Youngkin is too conservative for a state that’s long been trending blue.

“Let me be crystal clear: Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” said McAuliffe, who defeated four challengers to win the primary.

Youngkin shot back, describing Virginia as a state that over the past two Democratic governorships has gotten less safe, more expensive and has not offered enough economic opportunities.

“We need a new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Get ready, because Terry McAuliffe will default to the same political games he’s played his entire life.”

A longtime Democratic Party fundraiser and a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe held office from 2014 to 2018. Like all Virginia governors, he was prohibited from seeking a consecutive term. He jumped into the race in December after deciding in 2019 against a run for president.

Virginia is the only state in the nation with an open race for governor this year, and the contest is expected to draw outsized national attention as a barometer of voter sentiment in each party heading into the midterm elections.

The race has also taken on heightened importance as a referendum on the sweeping changes Virginia Democrats have implemented since assuming full control of the state government in 2020. They have pushed through gun control and police reform, marijuana legalization and a higher minimum wage, transforming what was once a reliably red state.

“We are a different state than we were eight years ago, and we are not going back,” McAuliffe said in his speech.

McAuliffe, 64, focused his campaign on the need for bold action to address Virginia’s lagging teacher pay and inequities in education funding. He’s also pledged to work to accelerate Virginia’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2024, protect abortion access, and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

He earned the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam, who said McAuliffe was best suited to lead Virginia’s economic recovery from the pandemic and cement the transformational changes Democrats have implemented.

McAuliffe also raised far more money than the other candidates: state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter. From the jump, he had the backing of a substantial number of elected officials across the commonwealth, including many powerful Black lawmakers.

“I liked what he’s done and believe he can do what he’s promised. And I think he can win,” said Joe Glaze, a 70-year-old retired clergy member who voted for McAuliffe Tuesday afternoon in Richmond. “That’s the main thing: I want someone who will win and beat Youngkin.”

Some more progressive voters criticized McAuliffe’s record on energy and criminal justice issues, and saw him as standing in the way of Carroll Foy and McClellan, who were each trying to become the nation’s first Black woman governor.

Either also would have been Virginia’s first female governor. The commonwealth has elected only one woman in its history to a statewide position and never to its highest office.

Both issued statements congratulating McAuliffe Tuesday night.

“Let’s get in the trenches. Let’s do the work because at the end of the day, we must win in November,” Carroll Foy said.

Del. Hala Ayala won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor Tuesday, all but ensuring that Virginia will soon elect its first female lieutenant governor — her Republican opponent is Winsome Sears, the first Black woman to receive a major party’s endorsement for statewide office.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring meanwhile secured his party’s nomination for a third term, staving off a strong challenge from Del. Jay Jones, who sought to cast Herring as insufficiently progressive. Herring will face Republican state Del. Jason Miyares in November.

Republicans picked their nominees for this year’s statewide races in a multisite convention process in May. Youngkin, a former executive at an investment fund with no voting record to be scrutinized, has pledged to use his personal wealth to power his campaign.

Bobbi Andrews, 85, said she voted for McAuliffe based on his past record as governor and, in part, because of his stance on education. But she said she’s voted for Republicans before and considers Youngkin a strong candidate.

“I’m glad to see a strong Republican running because we need two parties,” Andrews said. “If we don’t have two parties, neither one of them will be honest.”

___

Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report from Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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A guide to down ballot races in Virginia’s primary election

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By Associated Press | Published June 8, 2021 12:35 p.m.

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — While the Democratic race for governor has attracted the most attention, voters are also choosing Democratic nominees for other statewide offices in Tuesday’s primary election.

Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a third term, but faces a strong challenge from Norfolk Del. Jay Jones. And six candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Both Democrats and Republicans are holding nominating primaries for some House of Delegates seats and local races.

Virginia’s off-year elections typically draw national attention as a possible bellwether for trends heading into next year’s midterms.

Republicans chose their statewide candidates in a nominating convention last month. The GOP is looking to end a 12-year losing streak in statewide elections.

Early voting has been underway since late April. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Virginia’s voter ID law was repealed last year, so people casting a ballot can sign an ID confirmation statement instead of providing ID.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Incumbent Mark Herring is seeking a third term, looking to fend off a challenge from Del. Jay Jones, who represents Norfolk.

A former state senator who became attorney general in 2014 and was reelected easily in 2017, Herring has pitched himself to voters as a progressive champion on abortion rights, gun control and immigrant-friendly policies and argued that his experience made him the best choice to keep the office in Democratic control.

Jones, a Black 32-year-old two-term delegate, has argued the office needs a fresh perspective and sought to cast Herring as slow to respond to the reckoning sparked by the police murder of George Floyd last summer.

Jones picked up Northam’s endorsement, but many other establishment Democratic figures, including two of the state’s most powerful Black lawmakers, have endorsed Herring.

The winner of the primary contest will face GOP nominee Jason Miyares, a former prosecutor and a member of the House of Delegates who so far has been campaigning with a focus on public safety.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

Six Democrats are hoping for a chance to serve as lieutenant governor, a mostly ceremonial job that pays about $36,000 a year but is often a steppingstone to higher office.

Sam Rasoul, who has represented Roanoke in the House of Delegates since 2014, has a fundraising lead and is seen in some corners as the frontrunner. Most of the Democratic establishment, though, has coalesced around two-term Del. Hala Ayala, who represents Prince William County.

Also running are: northern Virginia attorney and racial justice activist Sean Perryman; Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan; businessman Xavier Warren; and Del. Mark Levine, who is simultaneously running for his House seat.

The winner will face GOP nominee and former Del. Winsome Sears, who 20 years ago became the first Black Republican woman elected to the Virginia General Assembly.

Sears, who came to the U.S. from Jamaica as a child and served in the Marines, served a single term representing parts of Hampton Roads in the House.

HOUSE OF DELEGATES

Voters will choose nominees in dozens of House primaries, settling the field of candidates for a fall general election shaping up to be intensely contested. Democrats will be on defense in November, attempting to hang on to their majority.

In the primary, Democrats have an unusually high number of intra-party challengers — 14 — while only three Republicans incumbents have opponents.

Both parties say they are confident their incumbents will do well.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Virginia court to hear challenges to removal of Lee statue

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By Associated Press | Published June 7, 2021 10:15 a.m.

By DENISE LAVOIE

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Last June, when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a plan to take down a 131-year-old statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the move was met with widespread praise and relief from racial justice activists who had long seen it as a symbol of white supremacy.

A year later, the enormous bronze equestrian statue still towers over a traffic circle on historic Monument Avenue in downtown Richmond, kept in place by two lawsuits filed by people who believe it should stay right where it is.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Virginia will hear arguments in the legal challenges.

Among the central issues to be decided by the court: Is the Commonwealth of Virginia bound by a decision made by state officials more than 130 years ago? Or can the state undo that decision because the public’s attitude toward Confederate symbols has changed drastically since then?

Attorneys for the plaintiffs will argue that the governor does not have the authority to remove the statue, while Attorney General Mark Herring’s office will ask the court to uphold a lower court’s rulings in favor of the governor.

Northam’s decision to take down the statue was announced just 10 days after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, during a time when there were nightly protests over police brutality and racism in cities around the country, including Richmond.

Separate lawsuits were filed by a group of residents who own property near the statue and a descendant of signatories to a 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and land they sit on to the state.

In the latter lawsuit, William Gregory argues that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue. In the other lawsuit, five property owners, including lead plaintiff Helen Marie Taylor, say that an 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly accepting the statue and agreeing to maintain it as a monument to Lee is binding on the governor. They say Northam’s order to remove the statue exceeded the governor’s authority under the Virginia Constitution.

During a trial in October, the state argued that it cannot be forced to maintain a statue that no longer reflects its values.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant agreed, finding that enforcing the 19th-century deed would violate “current public policy.”

The judge also cited two budget bills approved by the General Assembly last year that repealed the 1889 act authorizing the then-governor to accept the gift of the monument and directed the Department of General Services to remove the 13-ton sculpture.

The plaintiffs argue that the budget bills were unconstitutional.

“What the Residents are asserting is that the state cannot arbitrarily take away their property rights, or remove a historic landmark, in violation of the Constitution of Virginia. If the Governor finds this assertion staggering, it can only be because he has an unlimited vision of governmental power. The state must comply with its contractual obligations, just like private citizens,” attorney Patrick McSweeney argues in a legal brief filed with the Supreme Court.

The city of Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd’s death, which prompted the removal of Confederate monuments in cities around the country.

Herring argues that leaving the massive monument to Lee in place will continue to cause pain to many people who see it as a symbol of Black oppression.

“This monument to Virginia’s racist history has held a place of honor in Richmond for too long. The Lee statue does not represent the ideals Virginians live by today and the inclusive community that we strive to be and it is time to bring it down,” Herring said in a statement.

Gregory’s attorney, Joseph Blackburn, argues that removal of the statue would cause irreparable harm to Gregory.

“For 130 years, his family has taken pride in the Lee Monument and his family role in the placement of the Monument on land originally belonging to his family and given to the Commonwealth in consideration for the Commonwealth’s guarantee that it would perpetually care for and protect the Monument,” Blackburn wrote in a legal brief.

The statue — one of the most recognized Confederate memorials in the country — became the epicenter of the protest movement in Virginia after Floyd’s death and is now covered with graffiti.

It is unclear how long the Supreme Court will take to issue its decision. The court generally averages about six to nine weeks to issue rulings after oral arguments, but there are wide variations among cases.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Hearing set to discuss unconditional release for Hinckley

By Associated Press | Published June 7, 2021 10:00 a.m.

By BEN FINLEY

A court hearing has been set for Aug. 30 regarding whether the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan can live without restrictions in the home he shares with his mother and brother in a gated community in Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman set the late summer date during a teleconference Thursday that included John Hinckley Jr.’s attorney and a federal prosecutor.

Barry Levine, Hinckley’s lawyer, has been arguing for Hinckley’s unconditional release and points to a recent risk assessment that says Hinckley is stable and unlikely to reoffend.

The exact details of what unconditional release would mean for Hinckley were not discussed during Thursday’s teleconference. But the U.S. government opposes unconditional release, according to a brief filed with the court in early May. The government is also having its own expert examine Hinckley to determine “whether or not he would pose a danger to himself or others.”

Hinckley, 66, left a Washington psychiatric hospital in 2016 and has been living under increasingly fewer restrictions in a house that sits along a golf course in Williamsburg.

For instance, the judge ruled in October that Hinckley can publicly display his writings, artwork and music under his own name. Hinckley also is allowed to move out of his mother’s house and live within 75 miles of Williamsburg, if doctors approve.

But several conditions remain in place. For instance, Hinckley cannot possess a gun or contact Jodie Foster, the actress he was trying to impress when he shot and wounded Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley also cannot knowingly travel to areas where there is someone who is protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Hinckley was 25 when he shot the 40th U.S. president outside a Washington hotel. The shooting also paralyzed press secretary James Brady and injured two others.

Hinckley was suffering from acute psychosis and was obsessed with Foster. When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, they said he needed treatment, not a lifetime in confinement.

Last summer, a new risk assessment was conducted and found Hinckley to be at low risk for another psychotic episode. It also suggested “a low likelihood that he will reoffend with a violent crime over the short and long term.”

The assessment also quotes mental health professionals who indicated support for his unconditional release. Hinckley is quoted as saying that it would free him from driving to Washington for in-person meetings with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health.

Hinckley said he would have more free time if he no longer has to check in by telephone and complete daily activity logs.

″(N)ot a whole lot would change,” Hinckley is quoted as saying.

He plans to continue to live in the Williamsburg area, attend group therapy sessions and take his current psychiatric medications, the assessment stated.

Hinckley’s attorneys wrote in an April court filing that his mother is in declining health. And they hoped an unconditional release order “might be entered while Mrs. Hinckley can appreciate it.”

Levine, Hinckley’s attorney, raised the issue again during Thursday’s call with the judge.

“Mr. Hinckley’s mother is in something of a rapid decline,” Levine told the judge. “It’s been my hope that this would have come to a conclusion while she could enjoy the fruits of it, but maybe not. Maybe not.”

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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VA. Unemployment rate drops below the national average

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April’s unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in Virginia.

That is 6.6 percentage points below the rate of a year ago.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national average.

The national unemployment rate increased to 6.1 percent.

Governor Northam noted that Virginia’s unemployment rate has decreased every month since June.

The Governor added that the rate is edging closer to pre pandemic record lows.

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