Louisiana News

Edwards proposes $36B state budget with $186M spending increase

(The Center Square) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing a $36 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that increases spending by $186 million, with much of the increase going to education.

The administration’s presentation Friday was the first step of a negotiation between Edwards, a Democrat, and the Republican-majority Louisiana Legislature that begins in earnest when the legislative session kicks off April 12.

Edwards is requesting $400 raises for teachers and $200 for school support workers, at a cost of $40 million. Higher education would get almost $80 million more than last year, including almost $20 million for faculty pay increases and $23.2 million for state-backed scholarships. The Louisiana Department of Education would get a $40 million boost.

Louisiana’s salaries for teachers and faculty at every level are among the lowest in the nation, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said.

“If we have the opportunity to do something about it, we need to do so,” he said.

The administration’s budget does not boost funding for early childhood education, which has been a stated priority of the governor and the Legislature. Dardenne said the education department is set to receive more than $1 billion, and while most of that money will flow directly to local districts, the department will be left with more than $100 million that potentially could go to early childhood learning.

The Department of Corrections and Public Safety would be in line for a $59.4 million boost, which includes $23.8 million to house state inmates in local jails and $35.6 million for salaries, supplies and medical costs that in past years have been handled in a separate supplemental bill. Dardenne described the latter boost as a way to “right-size” the department’s budget on the front end rather than asking for the money later.

The federal government has boosted its share of Medicaid costs through the end of the calendar year. Dardenne said that change “saved the day” for the budget, because the administration can use for other purposes state dollars that otherwise would pay for health care.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerome Zeringue did not raise any objections about the proposed budget Friday, but he noted extra federal dollars may not be available next fiscal year, which will cause problems if the economy does not rebound enough so tax collections can make up the difference.

“To the commissioner’s credit, it was a very reasonable proposal because it didn’t do any appropriations subject to possible [future] federal dollars,” Senate President Page Cortez said.

Cortez said he supports the pay bump for teachers, noting the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the profession.

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