RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (August 20, 2019) addressed a Joint Meeting of the Senate Finance, House Appropriations, and House Finance Committees where he discussed the state of the Commonwealth’s finances and the Virginia economy.
“Over the last year we have worked together to maintain Virginia’s triple-A bond rating, put more money in our reserves, and made smart investments in our long-term growth,” Governor Northam said. “But as the global economy changes, we must be both cautious and strategic. During the next budget cycle we will continue laying a strong foundation for Virginia—preparing for a rainy day while investing responsibility in our long-term growth.”
Virginia ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $797 million, with much of that money already obligated for items such as water quality and taxpayer relief. The Commonwealth put $344.4 million into our reserves, which will bring total reserve funding to $1.6 billion—the highest amount ever—by 2021.
Governor Northam highlighted another important milestone for economic development in Virginia, announcing that his administration has secured $20 billion in investment since taking office in January 2018—more than any previous administration has announced in a full four-year term. This economic development has created over 51,000 new jobs across the Commonwealth.
Here is the Governor’s full remarks:
Good morning, Chairman Norment, Chairman Hanger, Chairman Jones, Chairman Ware, Speaker Cox, Members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you this morning.
I would like to recognize Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, First Lady Pam Northam, and members of my Cabinet.
I am here today to update you on the Commonwealth’s revenues for the just-ended fiscal year, as we look forward to our next budget cycle and the choices we will make to ensure Virginia remains a strong and diverse place to live and work.
We start out this new budget cycle in a good place, and we all can, and should, take credit for that. We have accomplished a great deal working together.
We have maintained our triple-A bond rating, put more money in our reserves for a rainy day, and made smart investments in Virginia’s long-term growth.
We approved dedicated transportation funding this year, which will make I-81 safer and more reliable while providing much-needed revenue for transportation projects in other parts of the state as well.
We worked together to attract new business to the state—notably Amazon, which is ahead of schedule in hiring, and has submitted its development plans for its National Landing campus. Virginia Tech will offer courses in their new Alexandria location next fall. I want to thank Delegate Rush for his work with Tech, and thank all of you for the bipartisan work that went into this project.
We took a huge step to reduce the criminalization of poverty by ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court costs and fees. As I have traveled the state to bring awareness to this issue, people have told me how much this means to them.
We found agreement on how to pay for a long overdue rebuilding of Central State Hospital.
We gave our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years.
We found a bipartisan resolution to the environmental challenge of what to do with 27 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash lying in unlined ponds near our waterways.
And we have now enrolled more than 306,000 additional Virginians in Medicaid through the expansion of that program. These people can now access the kind of health care many of us take for granted, helping them lead more productive lives. They can get treatment for chronic conditions.
They can get preventive care to help head off health problems before they become serious. And they can access treatment for addiction or other behavioral health issues. This access is saving lives, and we made this happen together.
We did all of these things together, working across the aisle, and put our differences aside to serve the people of Virginia.
We have opportunities to continue this good work in the session, and budget, ahead.
But first, let me update you on the financial health of the Commonwealth for the budget year that recently ended.
By and large, our financial health is good. We ended the year with a surplus of $797.7 million. But, as is often the case, much of that surplus is already obligated, for items like water quality and taxpayer relief. We also are putting $344.4 million into reserves, which means by 2021, we’ll have $1.6 billion in our reserves—approximately seven percent of our general fund revenue, the highest amount we have ever put in reserves.
This is something we all should be proud of. Last year I mentioned that putting 8 percent of our revenues into reserves is a goal of our administration, and we’re on the path to do so.
We expect revenues to grow in the coming year. I want to thank all of the economists, business leaders, and General Assembly members who volunteer to help provide our consensus revenue forecast. This is important work, and I thank Secretary Layne for his steady guidance.
While our revenues are positive, we also must plan for mandatory expenditures.
For example, we are due to rebenchmark our Standards of Quality in the coming biennium.
This is critical to ensure that our schools, and school funding, keep pace with our students’ needs, so every child receives a quality education. But it comes with a price tag.
We also know that our Medicaid program is likely to be more costly next year, as healthcare costs across the board continue to rise. Our administration is keenly aware of the issue of rising health costs, and will continue to work with you on solutions.
We also continue the work to build up our community-based behavioral health services, which provide critical support to many Virginians and their families, and we know there are costs to that work.
Over the past few years, we have invested, and will continue to invest, in strengthening our community service boards and ensuring that the services they provide are the same across the state. I want to take a moment to thank Dr. Hughes Melton for his work at our Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
That work must and will continue. I ask that we have a moment of silence in memory of Dr. Melton and of Hailey Green, who lost their lives in a tragic accident.
As we go into this new budget cycle, we must be both cautious and strategic.
Our unemployment rate remains at 2.9 percent. Our employers continue to add jobs. But because we are close to full employment, our job growth has slowed.
And though we are in the 12th year of economic expansion, we know that can’t last forever.
Federal policies continue to affect us. For example, the trade war with China and its resulting tariffs have already led to drastic cutbacks on purchases of American agricultural products, which hurt our farmers in Virginia.
China used to be the number one destination for Virginia’s agricultural and forestry exports, such as soybeans. In 2016, we exported nearly $700 million in those products to China.
But because of the trade war, our agricultural exports to China have lost nearly two-thirds of their value, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue for Virginia farmers. Sales of soybeans are now just $235 million, and China has dropped to our number two agricultural trading partner.
Personally, we have soybeans growing on our family farm this year, and they may very well stay in the fields if we can’t sell them. The farmers I grew up with would much rather sell at a profit than rely on federal subsidies.
We live in a global economy these days, and that means what happens on a global scale also happens at the local level. As the national economy slows, Virginia’s economy is expected to slow as well.
We’re fortunate that Congress has resolved the issue of sequestration—for now.
But federal fiscal policy and the accumulation of significant federal debt—now over $22 trillion and growing—will continue to be a drag on consumers and the economy.
To best prepare the Commonwealth for the future, we must continue to protect our AAA bond rating, diversify our economy, and make strategic investments in our long-term success. We must ensure that Virginia has the strongest foundation possible.
In the 21st century, broadband is like electricity—it is a necessity of modern life.
The projects we have supported are bringing broadband connections to nearly 70,000 homes and businesses so far across the Commonwealth, and we will continue to work on this important issue.
I thank you all for the additional dollars we put into the Housing Trust Fund in the last budget. But we can, and must, do more for affordable housing.
We must continue our investment in education, from early childhood through higher education and skills training. Every Virginian deserves access to a high quality and affordable education.
Making sure that every child has access to opportunity means starting early.
Last month, I signed Executive Directive 4, establishing the Executive Leadership Team on School Readiness.
That team will work to ensure that all at-risk three and four year olds have access to quality, affordable early childhood education options. I want to thank the First Lady for her work and leadership on this issue.
There is an obvious overlap between investments in education and investments in our workforce.
My administration continues to work with our community colleges and the entire higher education system, to build bridges between education, skills training, and the high-demand jobs we need to fill and want to continue to attract.
We want Virginians to be able to get the skills they need for good jobs.
This fall, I’ll be having conversations about these workforce pathways in our communities, talking to our higher education partners, our businesses, and our local leaders to see what our communities need.
We want to make absolutely sure we continue to support our world-class workforce and educational systems—both of which helped make Virginia the best state in the nation in which to do business.
One of my proudest days as Governor was to be at Shenandoah River State Park for the announcement that CNBC had named the Commonwealth the best state for business.
Over the years, we have moved steadily from 13th, to 7th, to 4th, and we are now back to our rightful place at number one.
This is an achievement for every one of us, and it comes because we have all worked together.
My top priority as Governor is making sure that every Virginian—no matter who you are or where you live—is able to fully participate in our economic growth.
By diversifying our economy, investing in our workforce, and keeping a stable and open business climate, I am proud to report that my administration has secured extensive new investment and jobs across the Commonwealth.
That includes Premier Tech, in your district, Chairman Norment—20 jobs and almost $2 million of investment in King and Queen County.
It includes Merck in Chairman Hanger’s district—152 jobs and a billion dollars of investment in Rockingham County.
In an area of Suffolk represented by Chairman Jones, Target is investing $2.8 million to expand its distribution center, bringing 225 new jobs.
Volvo Trucks, in Delegate Rush’s district, plans to invest $400 million and create 777 new jobs in Pulaski.
In Senator Howell’s district, Appian invested $28 million to expand its headquarters to McLean, bringing 600 jobs. Senator Howell couldn’t be here today, but we wish her a speedy recovery.
In Chesapeake, in Delegate Hayes’ district, Cloverleaf Cold Storage invested $21 million to create 33 jobs.
In Senator Ruff’s district, in Dinwiddie, Richlands Creamery is investing $1.7 million and creating 17 new jobs.
And in Portsmouth, in Senator Lucas’ district, Preferred Freezer has invested $60 million to create 60 new jobs.
There are similar stories across the state. From a large company like Amazon, to a small-town Main Street shop with five employees, every business contributes to the fabric of Virginia.
Every dollar of investment, and every job created, means more Virginians can put a roof over their head, put food on their table, and sleep soundly at night knowing they are able to support themselves and their families.
That’s why I am thrilled to announce today that over the last 20 months, we have secured 378 new economic development projects that will bring over $20.3 billion in investment.
This is a record. The $20 billion of investment is more than any previous administration has announced in a full four-year term, and we have achieved this significant milestone in less than half that time.
I am proud of what this means for Virginia, and I am equally proud that $2.7 billion of this investment is in distressed communities around the Commonwealth that have often been overlooked by these types of investments.
These economic development projects will create more than 51,000 new jobs, including over 8,700 in distressed communities.
We couldn’t do this without our local, legislative, and state economic development partners.
I want to particularly thank Secretary Brian Ball and his Commerce and Trade team, as well as Stephen Moret and his team at VEDP, for their efforts to promote the Commonwealth and its communities as ideal locations for business.
And I want to thank all of you. We have done strong work to attract business and jobs, and ensure that we have a diverse economy that is strong enough to weather headwinds. As I travel the Commonwealth, businesses are excited about locating or expanding in Virginia.
We also must continue to do the work needed to make Virginia a more welcoming and inclusive place, ensuring that a person’s race, income level, or place of birth doesn’t keep them from accessing a world-class education, quality health care, or business opportunities.
I have spent the past several months traveling the Commonwealth listening to leaders and everyday Virginians share the daily inequities they face.
As we prepare this budget, I will prioritize initiatives that level the playing field for small-, women-, and minority-owned businesses, reduce the unacceptable racial disparity in Virginia’s maternal mortality rate, and ensure equal access to a world-class education.
Ensuring that Virginia is a welcoming place to live also means continuing to work to make sure this is a safe place.
As we meet here this morning, the Virginia Crime Commission has also been meeting to take up gun safety legislation that we have proposed for years, and introduced again for the special session I called earlier this summer, after the tragic mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Universal background checks, extreme risk protective orders, one gun a month laws, and tougher penalties for people who leave loaded guns around children, are a few of the commonsense proposals that we have made.
I know where many of you stand on these issues. But I also know that we have an opportunity to come together to save lives. I hope we will seize that opportunity.
As we look to this next budget, we’re seeing larger requests for security funding, for state buildings and from outside groups. Already, for fiscal year 2020, we doubled the money in our School Security Equipment Fund. And we’ve had 133 state employees spend 4 hours each in active shooter training since July 1.
Those are resources we’d rather spend on other priorities, but our refusal to address gun violence requires us to instead prioritize self-protection.
We have made good choices together that led CNBC to award us that number one ranking.
And we have made good choices together, to invest in our infrastructure and our educational systems.
We can continue to make good choices.
From economic development to our spending priorities, we have seen that when we work together, we can build a better Virginia. When we invest in our people and our places, our roads, and the education and training people need to get good jobs, we thrive.
No matter what happens in the coming months and years, we are laying a strong foundation for Virginia to weather stormy days and prosper on sunny ones. I look forward to continuing to build upon that foundation in the upcoming session.
Virginia State Police urging travel safety during tropical storm
As the Virginia State Police prepares for Tropical Storm Isaias, Virginians are encouraged to get ready and plan ahead, too. Forecasts are currently calling for the eastern and central regions of the Commonwealth to be significantly impacted by heavy rains and strong winds.
Virginia State Police have all available troopers and supervisors working through the night and Tuesday as the storm makes its way across the Commonwealth. To prevent unnecessary traffic crashes from occurring on Virginia’s highways during the storm, state police advises residents to postpone travel plans and avoid driving, when possible.
If having to travel during the storm, drivers are reminded to do the following:
- Slow your speed. Though state police works closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to identify problem areas on Virginia’s highways during a storm, drivers still must drive for conditions. Slowing your speed gives you more time to safely react and avoid a crash, downed trees and/or debris in the roadway. Drive your vehicle based on your ability to properly maintain control of your vehicle.
- Turn Around. Don’t Drown. Never drive through standing water. What looks like a puddle can be deep and swift-moving water. Turn around and find another, safer route to your destination.
- Don’t tailgate. You need increased stopping distance on wet road surfaces. Give yourself more space between vehicles traveling ahead of you in order to avoid rear end collisions.
- Use headlights. Increasing your visibility helps you to avoid standing water and/or flooding. Headlights also help other drivers see you better, especially in a downpour when visibility is limited.
- Buckle Up. Most crashes that occur during inclement weather are caused by vehicles sliding off the road or other vehicles. Wearing your seat belt protects you from being thrown around the inside of your vehicle and suffering serious injury in a crash.
- Put down your phone. Having to drive in heavy rain requires a driver’s full, uninterrupted attention. Do not text and drive or shoot video of the bad conditions while driving, as these actions put you, your passengers and other vehicles at extreme risk of a crash and/or injury.
- Check Your Vehicle. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order for the conditions. Fill up the tank in advance. Check windshield wipers, tire tread, battery life, etc.
For the latest in road conditions and updates, please call 511 on a cell phone, download the App or go online to the VDOT Virginia Traffic Information Website at www.511virginia.org.
Virginians are advised to only call 911 or #77 on a cell phone in case of emergency. It is essential to keep emergency dispatch lines open for those in serious need of police, fire or medical response.
Governor Northam declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias
Governor Ralph Northam today declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to impact parts of coastal Virginia starting on Monday, August 3, 2020.
“Hurricane Isaias is a serious storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia as early as this weekend,” said Governor Northam. “This state of emergency will ensure localities and communities have the assistance they need to protect the safety of Virginians, particularly as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions, monitor local weather forecasts, and stay alert.”
A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts. While the track of Hurricane Isaias is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia could see impacts and therefore must prepare for the possibility of flooding, high winds, and potential storm surge that could come along with a tropical storm or hurricane.
Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is actively monitoring the situation and coordinating resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness efforts with local, state, and federal officials.
Recommendations for Virginians
• Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If the internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.
• Make a plan. Virginians residing in eastern and coastal Virginia should consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines ways to prepare for both weather and pandemic-related risks. Additional planning resources are available at ready.gov/plan.
• Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.
• Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.
For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
AG Herring again defends Virginia’s COVID safety measures
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has again successfully defended Virginia’s COVID safety measures against legal challenge, making it at least the 13th decision Attorney General Herring and his team have won in defense of the Commonwealth’s COVID mitigation efforts that were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus and keep Virginians and their families and communities safe and healthy.
“Science has shown us that Virginia’s COVID mitigation efforts are proven effective in preventing further spread of the virus and keeping Virginians safe,” said Attorney General Herring. “As we continue to see a surge of cases around the country, including certain areas of Virginia, we know that we must continue to adhere to these critical safety measures to keep Virginians healthy. I am pleased we were once again able to successfully defend these important COVID mitigation measures, and I am really proud of the hard work my team has done to keep their fellow Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”
The Plaintiff, in this case, William G. Dillon, Jr., who owns the Abbey Road restaurant in Virginia Beach, filed suit challenging the Governor’s executive orders that were passed to keep Virginians safe and healthy and prevent further spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would allow him to have more patrons in his restaurant. Judge David W. Lannetti of the Norfolk Circuit Court denied the request for a preliminary injunction, as well as the plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandamus after finding that “Plaintiffs failed to prove that they will suffer irreparable injury without the requested temporary injunction, that the requested relief is in the public interest, and that the equities tip in their favor.” Additionally, Judge Lannetti acknowledges that the COVID-19 situation is ever-evolving, but he makes the point that “Courts…resolve legal – as opposed to social or political – questions; the other branches of government establish and enforce statutes and policies.”
This is the thirteenth decision Attorney General Herring and his team has won in defense of Virginia’s COVID mitigation measures, including two cases that explicitly challenged Virginia’s mask requirement, in addition to winning court cases to protect the vote during the COVID pandemic.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – July 28, 2020; Hampton Roads area, CARES Act funds, going back to school
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:
- 4 out of 5 Virginia health regions are stable
- Hampton Roads area need attention
- continue to do the right things
- wear masks
- stay at home
- social distancing
- checking in on your neighbors
- vaccines being fast-tracked
- the nursing home situation turned around
- testing up to 20,000 people per day
- new executive order for Hampton Roads area
- CARES Act funds will be distributed
- working on quick-turnaround tests for COVID-19
- “recipe for disaster” if students go back to school without numbers down
Governor Northam urges Virginians to prepare for hurricane season amid COVID-19 pandemic
Governor Ralph Northam is reminding all Virginians to prepare now as peak hurricane season approaches and the Commonwealth continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, the Governor and his cabinet joined state-local public safety agencies for a virtual exercise to test Virginia’s hurricane readiness and address the challenges of managing disaster response and recovery efforts during the ongoing health crisis.
“Hurricane season brings added challenges this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are committed to ensuring that Virginians know their risks, get prepared, and stay informed,” said Governor Northam. “Our administration remains actively focused on planning for simultaneous emergencies, and we will continue to adjust our plans as needed to protect public health and keep the Commonwealth safe. As our government agencies prepare for the possibility of a complex incident involving a major natural disaster amid virus outbreaks, it is also important that individuals and businesses make sure they are ready as well.”
One of the key statewide coordination efforts is the development of the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which highlights preparedness, response, and recovery actions in the event of tropical weather in coastal areas of the Commonwealth. This year’s guide includes pandemic considerations such as updating kits to include sanitation and personal protective supplies and following public health guidance. The Commonwealth is also preparing to adjust operations to ensure the delivery of critical services while adhering to social distancing guidelines and keeping people safe from storm impacts.
“As public safety professionals, the staff at our state agencies are accustomed to managing multiple issues at once, and are specifically trained in hurricane response,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “I have confidence in our preparedness efforts and ask that Virginians also take the time to plan for the hurricane season.”
The traditional Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, and forecasters are projecting an above-average season—there have been eight named storms so far this year, and the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall in Texas on July 25.
Virginians know the devastating impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and recognize these threats are not isolated to coastal areas. High winds, flooding, and tornadoes have also caused significant damages to inland communities. Hurricanes can be unpredictable in terms of timing and scope, and this year, it is particularly vital to prepare for hurricane season in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This exercise was extremely beneficial, not only in strengthening our overall hurricane coordination efforts but in identifying limitations and risks due to COVID-19 and operating in a more dispersed, virtual environment,” said Curtis Brown, State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Understanding how we can enhance our preparedness, especially to support our most at-risk populations, is critical to the success of any disaster response and recovery.”
Governor Northam is calling on all Virginians and those visiting the state to prepare now by knowing your risk, purchasing flood insurance, developing a family communication plan, and making an emergency kit. It’s important to know what to do to protect yourself, your loved ones, your business, and your community.
• Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone.
• Complete a family communication plan. Prepare for how you will assemble and communicate with your family and loved ones. Identify meeting locations and anticipate where you will go. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on family communications plans is available here.
• Check your insurance coverage. Remember, there may be a waiting period for a flood insurance policy to become effective, and be aware that not all hurricane-related losses, such as flooding, are covered under traditional policies. Now is the time to review your coverage and contact your insurance agent for any changes. If you are not insured against floods, talk to your insurance agent, or visit floodsmart.gov. If you are a renter, now is the time to ensure you have adequate coverage to protect your belongings.
• Make an emergency kit. Assemble an emergency kit that includes nonperishable food, water, medication, sanitary supplies, radios, extra batteries, and important documents. Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here.
• Stay informed. Identify where to go for trusted sources of information during emergencies. Check with your local emergency management office to sign up for alerts that go directly to your phone or email. Be sure to monitor local news for watches and warnings in your area and follow directions of local officials. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.
There are many resources available to assist with hurricane planning efforts. Learn more about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats at vaemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Commission recommends removal of Virginia’s Robert E. Lee statue from U.S. Capitol
Governor Ralph Northam today applauded a unanimous vote by the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol recommending the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from National Statuary Hall. The Commission made its recommendation following a virtual public meeting hosted by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR). The Governor testified before the Commission in favor of removing the statue.
The eight-member state commission, authorized by the General Assembly, is charged with determining whether the Robert E. Lee statue should be replaced, and if so, recommend to the General Assembly a replacement to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia alongside George Washington in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection, where each state is entitled to two statues.
“The Robert E. Lee statue does not tell our full and true story, and it has never represented all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “I commend the Commission’s righteous decision to remove this relic from the halls of Congress and replace it with a new statue that embodies the inclusive Commonwealth we aspire to be.”
Since 1909, America’s first president George Washington has stood as Virginia’s contribution to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, along with Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The Virginia General Assembly established the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol during its last regular session and tasked it with studying removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue.
Governor Northam appointed two Commission members, Dr. Edward Ayers, a historian and professor at the University of Richmond, and Dr. Colita Fairfax, a professor at Norfolk State University and chair of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources. The Senate of Virginia appointed Senator Louise Lucas and the Speaker of the House of Delegates selected Delegate Jeion Ward. During the Commission’s first meeting on July 1, the four appointed members elected three citizen representatives, Dr. Fred Motley of Danville, Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe, and a resident of Indian Neck, and Margaret “Margi” Vanderhye of McLean. DHR Director Julie Langan serves as an ex-officio member.
The Commission will now begin work to recommend to the General Assembly a prominent Virginia citizen of historic renown or renowned for distinguished civil or military to be commemorated in National Statuary Hall Collection. Governor Northam will transmit the Commission’s decision to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress and request the immediate removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.
The Commission will also be required to select a sculptor for the new statue, with preference given to a sculptor from Virginia; estimate the costs associated with the replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue, including costs related to construction and placement of the new statue, for the removal and transfer of the Robert E. Lee statue, and for any unveiling ceremony of the new statue; and recommend to the General Assembly a suitable state, local, or private nonprofit history museum in the Commonwealth for placement of the Robert E. Lee statue.
The Commission is required to hold at least one public hearing prior to making any recommendation to the General Assembly on a new statue. The next public meeting of the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol will be announced here.