By: The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana
March 21, 2023
While lawmakers will debate a variety of issues when they return to the Louisiana Capitol next month, the state’s budget and spending priorities will take center stage in the discussions.
The latest round of budget negotiations began with a $45.7 billion proposal from Gov. John Bel Edwards that seeks to raise spending on education from preschool through college, but ignores worries about looming financial troubles next term.
If the state didn’t face a sizable drop in general tax dollars within two years, the governor’s spending ideas for the 2023-24 budget year that begins July 1 would win easy praise from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana for its focus on needed investments.
But while many of the recommendations for new spending are worthy ones, lawmakers must consider them in the context of budget shortfalls on the horizon. If lawmakers don’t intend to back renewal of the 0.45% state sales tax ending in 2025, they’ll need to determine how much new ongoing spending Louisiana can afford when that tax ends.
Edwards is proposing a $2,000 pay raise for K-12 public school teachers and a $1,000 salary hike for school support workers, such as bus drivers and cafeteria staff. The governor also is urging lawmakers to bump up the teacher raise to $3,000 if Louisiana’s income forecasting panel increases tax and fee collection projections as expected in May.
The spending plan for the upcoming budget year would boost spending on public colleges to give faculty a raise, increase need-based aid for students, pay for growing health care and retirement costs and assist research institutions. The TOPS college tuition program would cover all eligible students without needing any increased funding above the current year.
Early childhood education would get new state financing – though not enough to cover the expiring federal pandemic aid Louisiana has been using to send thousands of additional children not yet in kindergarten to publicly financed education and care programs.
PAR isn’t opposed to new increased spending. Lawmakers should just carefully think through the implications of any growth in government programs and services. Replacing part of the lost pandemic aid for children in early learning programs, for example, is a worthy place to invest more recurring money because of the hefty positive long-term consequences for families, businesses in need of workers and the state’s general welfare.
Edwards’ spending plans also include ideas for using last year’s $727 million surplus and the extra $925 million unspent in the current budget year. Those are separate from next year’s $45.7 billion budget proposal.
Constitutional requirements mandate some of the surplus money must flow into the state’s “rainy day” fund and cover retirement debt payments. The governor is proposing to spend much of the remaining cash from last year and this year largely on road and bridge projects, coastal protection work, deferred maintenance on college campuses and state buildings, legal settlements and debt payments.
Those types of smart short-term initiatives won’t grow government spending long-term.
Lawmakers are holding detailed hearings to comb through spending proposals for individual agencies. The package of budget bills likely won’t receive passage until the final days of the legislative session, which starts April 10 and must end June 8.
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