State House of Representatives leaders unveiled their proposals Monday for the state’s more than $36 billion operating budget and spending $1.6 billion in federal aid.
The version of House Bill 1, the main state spending bill, the Republican-led Appropriations Committee advanced Monday is very similar to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed budget, though the differences in how to handle federal American Rescue Plan money are wider.
Legislators are calling for an $800 raise for teachers and a $400 pay bump for school support staff, doubling Edwards’ request in both cases. The Senate Education Committee called for raises of $1,000 and $500, respectively.
House Appropriations Chair Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said he expects to enhance the requested raises if the Revenue Estimating Conference projects the money will be there. Edwards, likewise, has said he hopes to give bigger raises after the REC adopts a higher revenue projection. Legislative leaders scheduled last week a news conference for Monday afternoon to discuss their proposed budget and how they found money for teacher raises but canceled it Monday.
“Our teachers are the pillars of our education system, and it’s time we give them the pay raises they need,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a prepared statement.The budget also enhances spending for foster families and higher education salaries and fully funds the state’s TOPS scholarship program.
Zeringue described the proposed budget as “relatively flat” compared with how much the current budget calls for spending. The executive budget proposes spending about $36.6 billion during the fiscal year that starts July 1, a net increase of about $186 million from the current year.
As for the federal ARP money, legislators are proposing spending $400 million to shore up the state’s unemployment trust fund and pay back money the state borrowed from the federal government to pay benefits. Another $300 million would go to water system upgrades, $90 million for broadband infrastructure, $10 million for the logging industry and $4.5 million for movie theater operators, while $800 million would be set aside until the full federal guidance governing precisely how the money can be spent is available.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who is the governor’s point man on spending issues, questioned the wisdom of setting aside money for the two business sectors, arguing that spreading the money around too thin could “dilute the effectiveness” of the money.
Edwards has proposed putting $630 million of the ARP money toward the unemployment benefits fund and spending $400 million for transportation infrastructure, $300 million for water and sewer systems, $145 million for tourism promotion and $50 million for ports.