“This is what we ran on. I’m a listener,” Northam told reporters Monday after the maternal mortality announcement. “People across the commonwealth spoke on November the 5th,” he said, referring to the legislative elections in which Democrats won control of both the House of Delegates and state Senate for the first time in a generation.
With that consolidated power, Northam has the votes to pursue his budgetary priorities when the General Assembly convenes in January. Because of Virginia’s practice of approving new budgets every two years, the upcoming document is the first spending plan assembled by Northam, who took office in 2018. He has been working ever since under a budget proposed by his predecessor, former governor Terry McAuliffe (D).
Northam will present his roughly $119 billion spending plan to the legislature’s money committees on Dec. 17. In the meantime, he will start working to build support for what he said Virginia voters demanded in this year’s elections.
“They want a job that they can support themselves and their families with,” Northam said Monday. “They want their children to have access to a world-class education. They want access to affordable and quality health care for their families. They want to move toward renewable energy. . . . And they want a Virginia that is inclusive.”
Republican leaders in the House, where the budget will be introduced, had no immediate comment.
Many of Northam’s priorities are in keeping with his pledge to spend his term addressing racial inequity, which he made early this year after the public revelation that a photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicted a person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb.
Northam ultimately disavowed any knowledge of the photo, but he admitted darkening his face for a dance contest that same year and apologized for not understanding the painful history of blackface.
Several members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus have worked with Northam to atone by addressing systemic issues of racism and disparity.
That has included setting up a commission to purge discriminatory Jim Crow language from state lawbooks, beginning a review and overhaul of the way African American history is taught in public schools, and issuing an executive order setting a goal of eliminating racial disparity in maternal death rates by 2025.
The budget will be Northam’s primary opportunity to back up such plans with money. On Monday, when he proposed the new spending for combating maternal and infant mortality, he said black women are more than twice as likely as white women to die of causes related to childbirth in Virginia.
The spending would include $3.2 million to extend Medicaid coverage for at-risk mothers for a year after pregnancy. Currently, the federal health insurance — which is backed up with state spending — runs out 60 days after a birth for women whose income is too high to qualify for coverage under Medicaid expansion. Northam also proposed $12.8 million to fund Medicaid reimbursement for home health visits for infants and new mothers and $4 million for making long-term contraception available to poor women.
A pediatric neurologist, Northam made the announcement surrounded by mothers and small children. He was also joined by several legislators, including Legislative Black Caucus members Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William) and state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond).
“It is unacceptable that in this country and in our commonwealth, maternal mortality rates are on the rise. This disparity is greatest among black women,” he said. “We want to make sure that all of our children across the commonwealth of Virginia, all of our families, are taken care of.”