Edwards says his Louisiana budget proposal free of cuts

By MELINDA DESLATTE
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that he’ll propose a state budget for next year that avoids cuts despite the coronavirus pandemic, while also giving modest pay raises to public school teachers and new money to colleges.

The Democratic governor provided a broad outline to reporters of the 2021-22 state operating budget that his administration will unveil in greater detail Friday at a joint House and Senate budget hearing.

Federal aid and improving, though not fully recovered, tax collections will close a gap that at one point was estimated to top $900 million in the financial year starting July 1.

“We’re in a better place than many thought possible,” Edwards said.

Edwards also said he’ll recommend that lawmakers in the majority-Republican Legislature give a $400 annual salary increase to K-12 public school teachers and $200 pay bumps to support staff and additional money to higher education that can be used for faculty salary hikes.

That’s a far better situation than the Edwards administration and many state lawmakers expected they’d face, as they crafted next year’s budget.

Louisiana is projected to collect nearly $9.6 billion in general state tax dollars for the upcoming financial year, an increase above this year — but not enough to offset all the federal coronavirus aid Edwards and lawmakers used to piece together this year’s budget.

Continuing federal money that Congress has given states to respond to the coronavirus pandemic will help fill the rest of the hole.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget will get a more complete rundown of Edwards’ 2021-22 budget proposal Friday, which officially kicks off the negotiations for how to fund government programs and services for another year. Lawmakers start the legislative session in April and are not expected to finish crafting a budget until the session’s final days in June.

Louisiana also has a $270 million surplus left over from the 2019-20 budget year, but lawmakers and the governor can’t use that to pay for ongoing state expenses. Under the Louisiana Constitution, 25% must flow to the state’s “rainy day” fund and 10% must pay down retirement debt. That will leave about $95 million that can be spent on certain constitutionally allowed one-time expenses, such as debt payments, coastal restoration work, construction projects or savings.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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