EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was first published the week of Feb. 11, 2019. It is worth revisiting in light of the flap over Gov. John Bel Edwards not including a teacher pay raise in his proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The spat between Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives over the health of the state’s finances has nothing to do with whether Louisiana can afford to give school teachers and support personnel a pay raise in the coming fiscal year.
The rub, my friends, is over who will get credit for it.
For the fourth time in the past four or five months, the Revenue Estimating Conference this week failed to acknowledge the state will have more money to spend than previously thought for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1. And for the fourth time in the past four or five months, it was the individual representing the House of Representatives on the REC who cast the lone vote against recognizing some $150 million in additional revenue for the state to appropriate in the new fiscal year. The REC is composed of four individuals. They would include the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or his designee; the president of the Senate, or his designee; an economist from one of Louisiana’s colleges or universities; and someone from the governor’s office, which usually is the commissioner of administration. All four of them must be in agreement to recognize revenues for state government to spend. Just one “no” vote can block it.
Recognizing the additional money is important for Edwards because he must present a new fiscal year budget to the Legislature later this month. Lawmakers, of course, will entertain the governor’s proposed budget during the fiscal-only session of the Legislature. The session begins April 8 and must conclude June 6.
Edwards wishes to include a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and a $500 pay hike for support personnel in his proposed budget. Without the $150 million in additional revenue, Edwards would have two choices: drop the pay raises or find the money for them in other areas of the budget. The latter would mean the governor must cut funding for a program or service in order to fund his proposed pay raises. No governor of a sound mind wants to cut anything in an election year, and this is an election year in Louisiana in case you didn’t know.
And yes, Edwards is running for re-election.
The Republican leadership in the House wants to deny Edwards the opportunity to take credit for giving teachers and support personnel a fatter pay check, even if it’s less than $100 a month for teachers and worse for support personnel. A pay raise is a pay raise and this is an election year and everybody loves a governor who hands out pay raises. Right?
At least that’s what the governor must be thinking.
Obviously the House Republican leadership is banking on the REC revisiting the revenue projection issue at a later date — such as in the final weeks of the fiscal-only session — and discovering the state, indeed, has an additional $150 million to throw around in the new fiscal year. At that point, it wouldn’t be Edwards handing out pay raises for school teachers and support personnel. Instead, it would be the Republican-controlled House of Representatives since all appropriations bills, including legislation giving teachers and support personnel a pay raise, must originate in the House.
Of course it is. It’s purely politics. In an election year.
It just so happens school teachers and support personnel are the piñata.
Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at email@example.com.