Edwards: Increase raise for teachers, law enforcement
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Legislature will likely be able to raise state teacher pay by $2,000 a year before the current session ends in June, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.
Edwards spoke at a livestreamed news conference at the Capitol in Baton Rouge as the state House wrapped up work on a $38 billion 2022-2023 operating budget that already has $1,500 raises for teachers.
The Democratic governor said he’s pleased that many of his budget proposals, including the $1,500 teacher raise, have survived during debate on budget legislation. He said he’ll ask lawmakers to increase the raise to $2,000 if revenue projections increase as expected.
Edward said he was disappointed that some of his proposals have been cut back or stripped as the budget has advanced through the Republican-dominated House. He added that he hopes to work with the Senate, also heavily Republican, to restore money for increases in state supplemental pay for local police and firefighters.
“I kind of thought in Louisiana we were not in any way involved in any sort of a defund the police or anything like that,” Edwards said. “I cant imagine that that’s it.”
When money for the state pay supplement was stripped in committee earlier this week, lawmakers said they would like to find ways that local governments could increase the pay with out relying on state increases.
Edwards also said he was disappointed at lawmakers so far having sidelined his proposal to spend $500 million toward the development of a new Mississippi River bridge at Baton Rouge.
“It’s not like it’s being taken from other places around the state,” Edwards said, as he discussed legislative leaders reluctance to dedicate money to the bridge project.
Leaders have said they aren’t ready to dedicate such a large sum — about a fifth of the estimated cost of the project — when a site hasn’t even been selected. Administration officials say dedicating the money now, while the state is flush with better-than-expected tax revenue and one-time cash from sources including federal pandemic aid, would help secure future funding.
After facing years of tight budgets, lawmakers are debating how best to spend higher tax revenues and an influx of more than $2.8 billion in one-time revenue — $1.4 billion from federal pandemic aid, $700 million of surplus from the 2021 fiscal year and $853 million higher-than-planned revenue for the current year.
Still, some lawmakers have worried aloud during the current regular session which ends no later than June 6, that more needs to be done to curb spending. Even ad Edwards prepares for expected increases in tax revenue in official projections that will be made by a state panel before the session ends, some are concerned that a .45% temporary sales tax will expire in 2025.
Edwards said the proposed budget is reasonable and responsible. And Rep. Jerome Zeringue, the Houma Republican handling the budget bills in the House, said much the same thing before the House voted Thursday. Zeringue stressed that the legislation amended and approved by the House ensures that one-time funding sources aren’t being used on recurring expenses. He added that some recurring revenue is dedicated to debt reduction and some one-time projects.
With a separate construction budget, a judicial budget and other money legislation approved and sent to the Senate, the House finished work on about $45 billion in budget bills. The legislative session ends no later than June 6.