Louisiana’s Edwards proposes budget with teacher pay hikes, infrastructure

Published 6:50 am Monday, February 20, 2023

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(The Center Square) – Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed an executive budget on Friday that includes significant pay raises for teachers, large infrastructure investments, and increased spending in several departments.

Edwards presented a proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that includes $2,000 raises for educators and $1,000 raises for support staff, which the governor hopes to increase by $1,000 for teachers if estimated revenues continue to rise.

The raises are expected to cost $196.5 million, while another $56.5 million would go to higher education faculty pay increases. Other proposed spending includes $57 million for higher education grants and specialized funding, $53.2 million for a cyber assurance program, $51.7 million for early childhood education, $23.4 million to make permanent supplemental pay for law enforcement, $8.97 million for school safety initiatives, and $800,000 for cameras in special education classrooms.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne explained that the state constitution requires 25% of the surplus or $181 million to go toward the state’s rainy day fund, and directs 10% or $72 million to pay unfunded accrued liability for public employee pensions. The administration is also recommending $157 million in surplus funds each to DOTD, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and deferred maintenance for state buildings.

The excess spending would include $20.5 million to close out the Road Home Program, $100 million in repayments to the federal government for storm-related costs, $84 million for acquisitions and major repairs, and $36 million for Hurricane Ida shelter expenses. Edwards proposed spending another $340 million of the excess funds on the Department of Transportation and Development’s Highway Program, to cover state match for federal programs, cost overruns for current projects, and to secure future federal funding.

Another $7 million in excess would be devoted to help develop a multi-state hydrogen hub, and $15 million would go toward cancer research. The Edwards administration is proposing to transfer $100 million in excess funds to the state general fund for higher education programs for nursing, cyber security, high demand worker training, and campus security system wide.

Other transfers to the general fund would include $10 million for new voting technology, $38 million for a White Lake Property fund to restore shoreline, $28.3 million for an Oyster Resource Management Account, and $26 million for the Early Childhood Education Fund.

“It was unacceptable in 2016, I think it’s downright immoral in 2023,” he said. “The state government can and will lead by example, so we will use the powers that I have to raise the minimum wage for state employees to a minimum of $10 an hour.”

Several Republicans questioned various aspects of the budget, and pressed Edwards on how it might impact a projected budget deficit in the five-year forecast, pointing to hundreds of millions in increases in recurring expenditures.

Edwards argued the next governor will have time to address any shortfall, and highlighted efforts to grow the economy and conservative budgeting practices he predicts will mitigate the impact.

“There’s no guarantee what happens in the future, but because of our sound fiscal budgeting practices in Louisiana since I’ve been governor, the current year excess exceeds the revenue loss in fiscal year 2026,” he said.