BATON ROUGE, La. — The House passed a package of budget bills on Thursday, including a proposed $38.6 billion state operating budget with pay increases for kindergarten through kindergarten teachers. 12th grade and college teachers.
The bill also included more money for infrastructure, although it would not give Gov. John Bel Edwards the full $500 million he requested to lay the groundwork for a new bridge over the river. Mississippi to Baton Rouge.
Republican leaders have raised concerns about the immediate outlay of $500 million, especially when the location of the bridge has yet to be finalized.
Instead, they proposed moving that money into a fund and opening it up for a number of other projects.
The legislation, which is now going to the Senate, included $148 million for K-12 salary increases and $104 million for salary increases for faculty at state colleges and universities.
It would provide pay increases of $1,500 for K-12 teachers and $750 for school support workers.
The House debated and passed 10 budget bills, including funding for the judiciary and the legislature’s own operations. In total, the bills totaled around $45 billion in credits.
Edwards expressed his approval of the evolution of the budget. Edwards said the House “reflects the vast majority of what I’ve asked the Legislature to do, and that’s a good thing.”
But the governor expressed disappointment with the way the bridge project is being handled.
“It just needs to be done now,” Edwards said.
The majority of the discussion focused on House Bill 1, the state’s main operating budget. The House voted 94-4 to approve the bill.
After more than a decade of tight budgets, lawmakers entered session with $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief, $600 million in fiscal year 2021 surplus and more than $850 million higher than expected income.
Edwards insisted that the additional funds would be spent on one-time expenses, pointing to fiscal problems caused by the Jindal administration’s use of one-time funds for recurring expenses.
“We’ve gone from needing to use one-time money for recurring expenses to using recurring revenue for one-time expenses,” said Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.
Zeringue said the amount that would be spent on the bridge would likely be determined by a conference committee after the bill has been approved by both the House and Senate.
Louisiana ranks among the bottom states for teacher and professor compensation in the Southern region.
Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ administrative commissioner, said the $1,500 hike wouldn’t elevate Louisiana teachers to the Southern average. But he added that it would make a career in teaching more attractive.
James Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana system, said in an interview that he hoped the reserve of money for college faculty raises would be the “first in a series of steps” to invest. in university faculties.
The bill is now going to the Senate, which may choose to take up the bill after the revenue estimate conference meets in May.
If the panel anticipates even more revenue, the Senate would have more funds to appropriate.