House vote sends $39 billion 2022-23 budget to Edwards

May 19, 2022 GMT

BATON ROUGE, LA. (AP) — The Louisiana House granted final legislative passage Thursday to a $39 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The vote to accept various Senate changes to the bill was 88-7.

The House vote came despite complaints from some lawmakers that a $1,500 teacher pay raise included in the bill was too little.

“We should have put more emphasis on the teacher pay that was in this budget,” said Rep. Robby Carter, a Democrat from Amite, who said Louisiana is losing teachers to neighboring states. Rep. Aimee Freeman, a New Orleans Democrat, said that even with the raise teacher pay in Louisiana will remain below the Southern average. She also asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, a Houma Republican, to consider delaying a final vote. Zeringue refused.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards had included the $1,500 teacher raises in his initial budget proposal. But he urged lawmakers to increase that to a $2,000 raise after the state panel that makes official state revenue projections added more than $100 million to projections for the upcoming fiscal year. Leadership in the Republican-dominated Legislature resisted the call.

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Zeringue acknowledged that the state has not reached the Southern average for teacher pay, but also said local school districts need to do more to raise teacher pay.

Passage of the budget bill was unusually swift. It came more than two weeks before the legislative session’s June 6 adjournment deadline. The relatively quick passage means lawmakers will have time to consider override votes if Edwards exercises his authority to veto specific line items within the document.

After facing years of tight budgets, lawmakers entered the session this year with 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.

But lawmakers also have expressed concern that revenue is expected to fall in future years, in part because a 0.45% sales tax is due to expire in 2025. Zeringue, questioned closely about those concerns by Republican Rep. Blake Miguez of Erath, stressed that budget surpluses, nonrecurring revenue items and even some recurring revenue sources were used to take care of one-time expenses and obligations.

The budget legislation approved Thursday includes funding for some major items Edwards had called for when he submitted his budget proposal. There is the teacher pay raise, and legislative leaders said there is $300 million allocated to begin work on a proposed Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge. Edwards had called for $500 million to be allocated for the bridge, which is ultimately expected to cost as much as $2.5 billion.