BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Early childhood, K-12, and higher education would each receive significant boosts if lawmakers approve the wish list Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration presented to the joint budget committee Friday (Feb. 7).
But despite campaigning on teacher pay raises, Gov. Edwards’ proposal does not earmark money for teacher pay raises. Instead, local school districts could use their share of the proposed $40 million discretionary increase to offer instructors more cash on their own.
The growing TOPS program would be fully funded, receiving more money in anticipation that more students will qualify because they are making better grades. Colleges and universities would also receive a small bump.
Early Childhood Education would receive $25 million in new money, allowing some school districts to cut reduce or eliminate waitlists for Pre-K.
“The proposed budget is a banner year for (investing in education) if you agree that this is a wise way to spend additional funds that are available to us,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told lawmakers.
Gov. Edwards would divert some money from the Louisiana Department of Health to help cover the costs. The rest of the funding increases would be paid for using higher tax collections that are a product of a growing economy.
But lawmakers have not yet been able to agree on exactly how much money the state has to spend, a spat in the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC).
“Unless and until we get a REC forecast, we’re not going to have the degree of certainty we’re all looking for,” Dardenne said.
Gov. Edwards’ proposal, then, is more like an unofficial wish list. The administration will not submit an official budget because it would require them to use an existing forecast with an outdated, lower revenue estimate.
“The commissioner is really put in a quagmire,” new Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said. “It’s not the perfect way to start this process and I wish it would’ve been different. It’s not. It’s where we are.”
The process is also complicated by a lawsuit Gov. Edwards filed against Treasurer John Schroder. Schroder is refusing to turn over dollars from the Unclaimed Property Fund to the State General Fund.
If Schroder wins the suit, Gov. Edwards would have to cut $25 million from his proposal.
With a new legislature that is more conservative than ever, that dispute could defray support for Gov. Edwards among lawmakers.
Lawmakers will make first revisions to Gov. Edwards’ proposal when the session begins in March.
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