Friday, August 12, 2022

House vote sends Edwards $39 billion 2022-23 budget

Baton Rouge, La. ( Associated Press) — The Louisiana House passed the final legislative Thursday for a $39 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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

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

“We should have put more emphasis on teacher pay in this budget,” said Representative Robbie Carter, a Democrat from Emmet, who said Louisiana is losing teachers to neighboring states. New Orleans Democrat Rep. Amy Freeman said that even with teacher pay increases in Louisiana, the Southern would remain below average. He also asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, a Haumea Republican, to consider delaying the final vote. Zeringue refused.

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards raised $1,500 teachers in his initial budget proposal. But he urged lawmakers to raise it to $2,000 after a state panel This adds more than $100 million to official state revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. Leadership in the Republican-dominated Legislature opposed the call.

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Zeringue acknowledged that the state hasn’t quite reached the southern average for teacher pay, but added that local school districts need to do more to raise teacher pay.

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

After facing years of tight budgets, lawmakers entered session this year with high tax revenue and an influx of more than $2.8 billion in one-time revenue: $1.4 billion from federal pandemic aid, $700 million by the 2021 fiscal year surplus and exceeded planned revenue for the current year by $853 million.

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But lawmakers have also expressed concern that revenues are expected to decline in future years, as the 0.45% sales tax is due to expire in 2025. Zeringue, questioned closely about those concerns by Republican Rep. Erath’s Blake Miguez emphasized that budget surpluses, non-recurring revenue items and even some recurring revenue sources were used to meet one-time expenses and obligations.

The budget legislation approved Thursday includes funding for some key items that Edwards called for when he presented his budget proposal. There is a teacher pay increase, and legislative leaders said $300 million has been allocated to begin work on the proposed Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge. Edwards called for $500 million to be allocated for the bridge, which is expected to eventually cost $2.5 billion.

Nation World News Desk
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