BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Louisiana legislators have less than a week to pass a balanced budget and with the tense fight over if they should bust the constitutional spending cap, the Senate has finally revealed their plan Saturday afternoon.
The Senate plan includes hundreds of amendments to the House-passed budget, including putting back the teacher pay raises. But if the spending cap is not busted, there are many projects that will not get funding.
Many conservatives have pushed not to bust the cap – saying the state needs to limit growth in spending with a potential fiscal cliff looming in just a few years. The Senate has structured the bill so that funds for hospitals, most local construction projects and event funding, and investments into the fortified roof program are at risk if the cap isn’t busted.
“We are $565 million under the line set below the line and $1.1 billion in FY24 below the line,” said Senate President Page Cortez.
When the budget left the House of Representatives, it was a far cry from what the Governor had proposed in this executive budget. One major change was that lawmakers had done away with teacher pay raises on the state level. Their plan would divert money into the teacher retirement debt in hopes of saving local schools money on their annual payments to then use those savings for pay raises. Charter schools and others would not be able to benefit from this plan, and many districts would not be able to give as much of a raise as the governor wanted.
The plan also removed $51 million for early childhood education that had been proposed to backfill lost federal aid that had come in during the pandemic. Under the Senate plan, it only replaces $14 million. Cortez said there are still ongoing talks around this figure and it could change.
The House and Senate have been at odds for weeks on how to spend the $2.2 billion in extra money the state currently has. But the Commissioner of Administration said the House plan already is over the spending limit.
According to Cortez, if the resolution to bust the cap is not passed, under the Senate plan, the money instead will all go towards paying down retirement debt instead of funding things like some construction projects, coastal protections, and deferred maintenance for higher education.
“Question is, if the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution three occurs, all of this will be funded. Failure to pass Senate Concurrent Resolution three, you will effectively be putting an additional $2 billion to the unfunded accrued liability in lieu of all of this,” Cortez said.
The teacher pay raises are backed by the Senate but the MFP formula still needs to be passed by the House. The question now is will the holdouts in the House be willing to bust the cap or will they force a new deal to be worked out with limited time.
The budget now goes to the full Senate for a vote and will have to go back to the House to concur with all of these changes or reject them. That must be done by 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 8.