BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office presented its annual budget wishlist Friday, one far rosier than what state agencies had feared in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early throes.
Edwards’ $36 billion spending plan — which is $186 million larger than the state’s current fiscal outline — features no cuts to state services, a credit his aides owe largely to federal COVID-19 relief. Congressional packages have given state governments billions to supplant pandemic-related revenue losses, while stimulus checks have given consumers spending cash.
“That provided some little jolt,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, told a joint legislative panel. “I think there is reason for some degree of optimism right now.”
The 2021-22 spending plan would put more money toward education. Public K-12 teachers would receive $400 pay raises, while an extra $200 would go to K-12 aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Higher education salaries would also rise.
“Today’s executive budget sends a clear message: education is critical to our success and now is the time to make strategic investments in our people,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a statement Friday.
Other increases proposed in Edwards’ budget plan include:
● TOPS scholarships and Go Grants for college students: $23 million
● Corrections and inmate housing: $59 million
● Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness: $12 million
● Net change in debt service: $14 million
Edwards’ budget roadmap does not account for the proposed relief package currently moving through Congress, though the governor has said he welcomes additional federal aid.
Dardenne, however, tempered his budget outlook by suggesting the congressional COVID-19 help will not last forever.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t fall into the trap of saying ‘we’ve got all this federal money, so we ought to be reducing taxes,'” the budget adviser told lawmakers.
Edwards’ budget recommendations surfaced the same day state House and Senate leaders unveiled their own goals for 2021: lowering income tax rates, reducing the corporate franchise tax and centralizing the sales tax.
Lawmakers start their annual legislative session in April. Their budget talks are set to last into June.