BATON ROUGE — The House passed a package of budget bills on Thursday, including a proposed $38.6 billion state operating budget with pay raises for K-12 teachers and college faculty.
The bill also included more money for infrastructure, though it would not give Gov. John Bel Edwards the full $500 million he has sought to lay the groundwork for a new Mississippi River bridge at Baton Rouge.
Republican leaders raised concerns about spending $500 million immediately, especially when a location for the bridge has not yet been finalized.
Instead, they proposed moving that money into a fund and opened it up to a number of other projects.
The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, included $148 million for K-12 pay raises and $104 million for pay raises for faculty at the state’s colleges and universities.
It would provide for $1,500 pay raises for K-12 teachers and $750 raises for school support workers.
The House discussed and passed 10 budget bills, including funding for the judiciary and the Legislature’s own operations. All told, the bills totaled about $45 billion in appropriations.
Gov. Edwards expressed approval for how the much of budget is unfolding. Edwards said the House “reflects the vast majority of what I asked the Legislature to do, and that is a good thing.”
But the governor expressed his disappointment in how the bridge project is being handled.
“It just needs to be done now,” Edwards said.
A majority of the discussion was taken up with House Bill 1, the main state operating budget. The House voted 94-4 to approve the bill.
After more than a decade of tight budgets, lawmakers entered the session with $1.4 billion from federal COVID-19 aid, $600 million of surplus from the 2021 fiscal year and more than $850 million in higher- than-expected revenues.
Edwards insisted that the extra funds would be spent on one-time expenses, highlighting the fiscal problems caused by the Jindal administration’s use of one-time funds for recurring expenditures.
“We’ve gone from needing to use one-time money for recurring expenses to now using recurring revenues on one-time expenses,” state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said.
Zeringue said that how much would be spent on the bridge would likely be determined in a conference committee after the bill cleared both the House and the Senate.
Louisiana ranks among the bottom states for both teacher and faculty pay in the Southern region.
Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ commissioner of administration, said that the $1,500 bump would not lift Louisiana teachers to the Southern average. But he added that it would make a career in teaching more enticing.
James Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, said in an interview that he hoped the pool of money for raises for college professors would be the “first in a series of steps” to invest in university faculties.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which may opt to pick up the legislation after the Revenue Estimating Conference meets in May.
If the panel forecasts even more revenue, the Senate would have more funds to appropriate.