Entering the final year of his first term, Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to seek pay raises for Louisiana’s public educators, women and hourly wage earners.
Edwards outlined his goals Monday for the two-month legislative session that starts in April. While the Republican-led Legislature largely supports raising teacher pay, state lawmakers have repeatedly rejected the Democratic governor’s proposed minimum wage.
“Their unreasonableness on this will not deter me from doing what I believe is right for the people of Louisiana,” Edwards told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Louisiana is one of five states without a minimum wage and follows the federal $7.25 rate, established in 2009. The governor will campaign to set an $8 rate in 2020, then raise it to $8.50 in 2021.
Edwards also pledged to support legislation to slim Louisiana’s gender pay gap. Women in Louisiana average less than 70 cents for every dollar paid to men.
“I believe in equal pay for equal work,” he said. “We have the highest wage gap in the United States, and everybody ought to be offended.”
Public educators would also receive higher pay under the governor’s 2019 wish list. He will seek $1,000 raises for teachers and $500 raises for support staff, including cafeteria workers and school bus drivers.
“It’s an investment in our children,” Edwards said. “The most precious natural resource that God has entrusted to us is our children, and there’s nothing more important than their education.”
Teacher pay in Louisiana currently falls $2,200 below the southern regional average, according to the Governor’s Office.
Edwards hinted that he would support funding early education programs with revenue from sports betting. Such wagering remains illegal in Louisiana, though the governor said legalizing it would keep the state competitive with neighboring Mississippi.
“While generally we have too many dedications, I support early childhood education enough that it is a conversation that I’m willing to have,” he said.
One item absent from the governor’s agenda: tax proposals. The topic had been a mainstay for the past three years, during which state lawmakers held seven special sessions. The Legislature ultimately agreed last year to enact a 4.45 percent sales tax rate through 2025.
“In 2019, it is my intention not to have a single special session of the Legislature,” he said. “This should be doable.”
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, remains confident in his bid for a second term. So far, he faces two challengers in the governor’s race: Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. The election is Oct. 12.
“While we still have our challenges, we are in a much better position to meet those challenges,” Edwards said.