Louisiana Senate begins crafting budget with millions in unexpected, extra cash
Senate set on exceeding expenditure limit, restoring teacher pay and one-time investments
BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - The 2023 Legislative Session will wrap up in no time, and the state Senate has only just received the budgetary bills. As negotiations pick up, discussions on priorities already look different than their House colleagues.
The Senate started its budget discussions with a bit more information than the House. The Revenue Estimating Conference revealed the state has an extra $323 million for the current budget year and another $483 million for the next budget year.
“I think we are both in lockstep and 100% in agreement on controlling the recurring growth on our state budget,” said Sen. Mike Reese (R-District 30).
While that may be the case, the debate over the budget is centered around how exactly to do that.
The Senate wants to restore teacher pay raises and infrastructure investments and exceed the spending cap in the process.
“I think that’s probably near unanimous,” said Sen. Jay Luneau (D-District 29) on Senate’s position on exceeding the cap.
While the House-favored budget, which stays under the spending cap, is backed by the Louisiana House GOP, Reese of Leesville, a Republican, and Luneau of Alexandria, a Democrat, both favor exceeding the cap, citing one-time investments.
“Really the bulk of our conversation is where do we invest one-time dollars to get the biggest benefit now and into the future?” said Reese.
Luneau compared it to owning a house with a leaky roof. Do you pay a few future house notes or repair the roof?
“You tell me which would you do?” asked Luneau. “I think it makes sense for us to fix those leaks and to continue to pay our mortgage the way we’re obligated to do it until it’s paid off.”
The leaky roof in the analogy is the state’s infrastructure and education needs.
“What do we do? Do we continue to let our schools have libraries full of mold and mildew and their roofs are leaking? Or do we go in and fix those things?” asked Luneau, referencing LSU’s library. “Do we build a new allied health center downtown in Alexandria for LSUA, or do we let them just keep trying to do what they can do with their overflowing classes at their main campus?”
LSUA has put in a request for $35 million in capital outlay funds in this legislative session to build a new downtown allied health campus. They have already received $3 million in funds from the City of Alexandria and are continuing to collect private donations.
Luneau, who is on the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay, said the funding for LSUA’s project is in the budget, and he expects to keep it there.
“Those are the kind of investments that are one-time investments, but to the extent that we can increase the output of qualified nurses in our community that get good paying jobs, that help our hospitals grow and prosper,” said Reese. “Those have additional ongoing economic benefits to Louisiana and to Central Louisiana.”
Reese also wants to see one-time, infrastructure investments for roads, water and sewerage in the 2023-2024 budget.
However, even as the Senate supports those investments and exceeding the spending cap, that does not mean the Senate does not support what the House budget aims to do, namely to pay down debt and set money aside for the future.
Luneau and Reese are both optimistic the Senate can successfully restore teacher pay raises and education and infrastructure investments, while still paying down on state pension debt.
“I think we have the opportunity to present an alternative for our House colleagues to consider that does all of the above,” said Reese.
The legislative session must end by June 8.
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