Governor's office proposes hopeful budget

BATON ROUGE — The Edwards administration on Friday proposed a budget for fiscal 2022 that would use federal coronavirus aid to avoid cuts and provide additional funds to K-12 and higher education.

The $36.6 billion budget provides annual pay increases of $400 to K-12 public school teachers and $200 for K-12 support staff, a proposal that teachers unions immediately criticized as too small.

Jay Dardenne, the commissioner of administration, told legislators that the budget also includes a $56 million increase in funding for the state’s higher education system, $19.8 million of which is intended for faculty pay raises.

Besides the increase for higher education, the $186 million in total increases in spending include:

● Department of Education: $40 million for the teacher pay raises.

● TOPS scholarships and GO Grants for Louisiana college students: $23.2 million.

● Corrections and local housing for inmates: $59.4 million.

● Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness: $11.5 million.

● Net change in debt service: $14.3 million.

“We’re in a better place than many thought possible,” Edwards said Thursday. “This is some hopeful and bright news in a period of time that hasn’t been so bright.”

The lack of cuts is due—for the most part—to hundreds of millions in federal support. In addition to aid provided to healthcare and higher education, stimulus checks encouraged Louisianans to spend more and kept the state’s sales tax revenue from declining as much as expected.

The federal government will pay a larger share of Medicaid payments. States are responsible for a portion of the Medicaid funding each year, but because of the pandemic, Louisiana’s contribution is significantly less than in previous years.