BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration Friday proposed a $32 billion Louisiana budget for next year that pours millions of new dollars into education and keeps most other government programs on an even keel, using money that isn’t yet available to spend under the law.
The Democratic governor’s spending recommendations for the 2020-21 financial year beginning July 1, released to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, kicks off months of budget negotiations.
“This is a starting point,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser.
Among the $285 million in proposed boosted spending, nearly half would finance increases across education programs, which the governor prioritized as he campaigned for a second term in office in the fall.
Edwards recommends steering more than $65 million of the new cash to the K-12 financing formula for public schools, $25 million for early learning programs for children from birth to 3 years old and $35 million for public college campuses. Spending on the TOPS college tuition program also would grow to cover all eligible students.
Those increases would come on top of new investments in education the governor and lawmakers made this year.
But Edwards’ budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year doesn’t explicitly include a public school teacher pay raise, despite the governor’s pledge to work to get teacher salaries to the Southern regional average. Some of the increased dollars proposed for the K-12 financing formula could be used for pay hikes, however.
Lawmakers in the majority-Republican House and Senate likely won’t finish crafting next year’s spending plan until near the end of the three-month regular legislative session that begins March 9.
Edwards’ recommendation is a wish list of sorts. The governor used income projections that aren’t included in Louisiana’s official revenue forecast because the Legislature’s new Republican leaders wouldn’t adopt them. That includes billions of dollars that agencies expect to receive from fees, fines and other revenue sources, along with a $103 million increase in tax collections that economists anticipate will arrive in the treasury.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez refused to support the projections, wanting only a tiny increase for next year’s forecast instead of the $103 million. The disagreement stalled forecast changes.
Amid forecasting bickering last year, Edwards employed a similar method to his budget proposal in 2019.
The governor’s recommendations also would spend $25 million that Republican state Treasurer John Schroder has said he won’t transfer for general operating expenses. Edwards sued Schroder over the money Friday, asking a judge to declare the treasurer’s actions illegal.
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