Blocked again: Impasse continues on Louisiana income numbers
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards isn’t getting the financial boost he hoped would help pay for a Louisiana teacher salary hike in his upcoming budget proposal, stymied again Monday by the Republican House speaker.
For a fourth time in as many months, a House GOP leader blocked the income forecast changes recommended by economists and sought by the Democratic governor. The changes would make millions more available for spending in this budget year and the year that begins July 1.
The rejection came in the Revenue Estimating Conference, which determines how much money is available for state spending. House Speaker Taylor Barras’ opposition kept the panel from reaching the required unanimous vote to change a forecast.
Across monthly forecasting meetings since November, the House Republican leadership has repeatedly refused economists’ suggestions to raise projections for general state tax collections. Barras said he’s being cautious, citing economic uncertainty that he said causes “heartburn” for him. He said he doesn’t want to add money, only to have to cut later.
The Edwards administration calls the move political, aimed at making it difficult for the governor to include the public school teacher raise in his budget proposal for next year. He releases that plan to lawmakers Feb. 22.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Republican Senate President John Alario and LSU economist Jim Richardson — three of the four members of the Revenue Estimating Conference — said economists for the Legislature and the Edwards administration have made the case for rewriting the numbers, based on tax collection data and economic modeling.
Richardson described the proposed forecast changes as “very cautious.”
Economists recommended the conference increase the forecast for the budget year that ends June 30 by more than $122 million and the next budget year by at least $90 million. But all four members must agree to change the projections, including Barras.
Barras added a wrinkle during discussion this time. He proposed adjusting the forecast upward to include billions of dollars in estimated fee collections and money dedicated to specific programs, while refusing to boost the numbers for general state tax collections that could finance the teacher pay raise.
“I think this is money we have,” Barras said of his pick-and-choose approach.
Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, objected. Dardenne said it made no sense to accept some of the economists’ projections, but reject others. He said that would create a “Frankenstein forecast.”
“We ought not mix and match,” Dardenne said. “I think that’s a terrible precedent.”
No one supported Barras’ proposal.
The deadlock has kept Edwards and lawmakers from enacting $43 million in spending plans for this year, largely on public safety programs. The governor also intended to use dollars from the increased forecast to help finance his education plans in the budget year that starts July 1.
Edwards wants to give public school teachers a $1,000 raise and school support staff, such as teacher aides and cafeteria workers, a $500 pay bump. He also wants to give a separate block grant increase to school districts. The total package is estimated to cost about $135 million.
House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry has said if Edwards wants a pay raise in his budget proposal, he should prioritize available dollars. Louisiana is projected to have $162 million more in general state tax income next budget year than this year, under existing projections.
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