Louisiana lawmakers pass state budget plan with only temporary teacher pay increase

The final day of the 2023 Legislative Session came to a fiery end on June 8.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 6:48 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2023 at 7:42 PM CDT
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(Louisiana Illuminator) - In the end, Louisiana public school teachers will get a pay increase, but it will only be effective for one year.

The Louisiana Legislature passed a budget plan Thursday in a confusing, final 30 minutes of the legislative session that includes a $2,000 temporary hike for teachers, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars that are supposed to cover universities, transportation needs, coastal restoration and legislators’ pet projects in their home communities.

But lawmakers also voted to reduce funding for the Louisiana Department of Health by $100 million from the most recent draft of the budget, with little explanation given about what that cutback might do. Some senators indicated they were blindsided by the health care budget change and confused about why the reduction had been included.

At least $22 million of the health funding reduction is coming from money for the state’s Medicaid disenrollment efforts, but legislative leadership didn’t explain what else might be affected — if anything — by reducing the rest of the allocation.

Several conservative lawmakers unhappy with the spending plan also attempted to slow down the budget voting process in the House, calling out procedural questions and motions that House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, largely ignored. Had the House taken much more time, they may not have met the deadline to have their budget plan completed.

“Are you breaking the House rules right now?” House Republican Caucus Chairman Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, asked Schexnayder as the Speaker pushed the budget bills through the process in the final minutes of the session.

The teacher’s pay raise won’t be permanent and will function more like a stipend. Lawmakers never came to a consensus with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) on a school funding formula, which had to be approved by both parties for the raises to carry over from year-to-year.

Now, teachers must hope the next governor and future state lawmakers work the pay raise into a new school funding formula next year to ensure it becomes part of their base salary moving forward.

Teachers are not the only ones to get extra money in this state budget cycle with unprecedented resources. Gov. John Bel Edwards and legislators have spread around most of the $2.2 billion in unexpected revenue available over the next 13 months.

Lawmakers also raised pay for public university faculty, local police and judges. They also continued to make heavy investments in infrastructure, with more money going to roads, bridges, college campus buildings, ports, and water and sewage systems. A popular roof fortification program and an incentive fund set up to lure more property insurance companies to the Louisiana market also received more financial support.

With so much money available to them, legislators also took advantage of the state’s largesse to direct hundreds of millions of dollars into their parochial interests and initiatives.

Their budget plan includes over $100 million of pet projects — allocations that lawmakers request in secret and receive no public vetting. Some of this money is going to nonprofit organizations with which legislators sometimes have a personal connection.

Legislators have also directed millions of dollars to public entities in their home parishes and communities. These include funding for sheriffs, school boards and other local elected officials who might be able to help them with their reelection campaigns later this year.

The money hasn’t been spread around the state evenly. As in other years, legislative leaders’ home parishes are getting more money than other parts of the state. For example, millions of dollars in earlier drafts of the budget were directed to colleges, the local jail and other initiatives in Lafayette Parish, where Senate President Page Cortez and other legislative leaders live.

A small group of conservative lawmakers who threatened to block the use of over billion dollars of state funding are also expected to get less money in their districts. The governor and legislative leaders intend to punish the 19 House members who didn’t go along with plans to bust the state’s spending cap earlier this week.

Those conservative lawmakers scored a modest victory, however. The state budget plan currently includes hundreds of millions of dollars of additional debt payments for public employee retirement, which they had pushed to include. Lawmakers said the large debt payments will help the state save money over the long run.

One of the final sticking points in the state budget negotiations was over how much money should go toward early childhood education programs. A prior cut to federal funding means the state will lose thousands of early childhood education seats. Edwards and children’s advocates had pressed lawmakers to backfill at least $51 million of that lost money with state funding.

The push for early childhood education is likely what doomed a permanent teacher pay raise. Legislators ended up scuttling the school funding formula in part so they could use some of its money to support more early childhood education slots.

The formula included not only the teachers pay raise, but also $61 million for “differential” pay — extra money given to high-performing teachers and those in hard-to-fill positions, such as science and math.

In the end, lawmakers decided they wanted to divert some of that $61 million for “differential” pay to help retain more early childhood education slots. In doing so, they ended up trashing the school funding formula required to give a permanent raise to teachers.

This budget cycle marks the last one with Edwards in office. While his last year has been characterized by arguments over whether the state has too much money to spend, he took over as governor during one of the largest financial crises in state history.

Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor have often been at odds over how to spend the state’s money and whether taxes were needed over the last eight years.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.