Despite forecast dispute, Edwards to propose spending hikes
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’ll build next year’s budget proposal off Louisiana income projections blocked by House Republican leaders, proposing another round of K-12 teacher pay raises and boosted spending on colleges and early childhood learning programs with dollars he hopes eventually will be incorporated into the state’s official forecast.
The Democratic governor, readying for a second term starting in January, spoke about his plans for the 2020-21 budget proposal he’ll submit to lawmakers in February during a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday that recapped 2019 and looked ahead to the upcoming term.
His budget planning ran into a roadblock when Republican House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry blocked an updated income forecast that would have given Edwards and lawmakers more general tax dollars to spend in next year’s budget. Henry said it was too soon to increase the projections, citing financial uncertainties. His actions were backed by GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras. The two Republican leaders took a similar stance last year.
In response, Edwards said he’ll revisit the same budget approach he used after the forecast changes were blocked, proposing a budget wish list of sorts, using the dollars he and nonpartisan economists believe will show up in the treasury and offering the ways he’d propose to spend the increased revenue.
“We will work with a planning document that is based upon that figure,” Edwards said.
Louisiana already is projected to bring in $319 million more in general tax dollars next year compared to this year. The blocked forecast Edwards intends to use would increase that by another $103 million.
The governor didn’t give a figure for how much he wants to increase spending on the various education programs, and wouldn’t say what size teacher pay raise he’d propose. But he described early childhood education, K-12 public schools and colleges as “all three critical areas to our future.”
“Education cures a lot of ills, and while we made good progress this year, it was the first teacher pay raise in 10 years. It was the first net increase in state general fund for higher education in 10 years, and we still have one of the lowest expenditures per student in higher education in the nation,” he said.
Edwards said he hoped the new Republican legislative leadership that will take office Jan. 13 will get the state’s income forecasting panel “back to functioning the way that it should,” rather than continuing to block forecasts.
Henry said that refusing to change the forecast doesn’t stop the governor from proposing his budget priorities: “They still have enough information to do the same type of budget process we did last time.”
In other areas, Edwards:
— Said he’s met twice with Republican Rep. Sherman Mack of Albany, who has the backing of a majority of House Republicans to be the next speaker in the chamber, but is still locked in a heated competition for the job. Edwards didn’t say what they discussed or whether he supports Mack to be speaker, instead saying the House will choose its leaders. Republican Sen. Page Cortez of Lafayette appears to have locked up the needed votes to become the next Senate president.
— Announced he created a “ complete count committee ” to raise awareness of the 2020 U.S. Census and encourage people to respond to the questionnaires, a move already enacted by most other states.
— Said his administration on Wednesday was releasing a list of $92 million worth of projects around the state aimed at improving drainage and flood control.
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