Louisiana governor proposes teacher raises, new bridges, higher education budget increases

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' budget proposal is packed with plums for teachers, professors, pre-school students, adult community college students, business owners and others as the state finds itself flush with revenue from federal relief funding and higher-than-expected tax collections.

Edwards is also recommending major funding for new bridges in Baton Rouge and Calcasieu Parish and the completion of the I-49 Lafayette Connector.

"I think we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity in some respects to move our state forward — all of our communities, leaving nobody behind," Edwards said during a press conference Monday. "I'm proud of this budget. My intention is to do something transformational."

Edwards' Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented the governor's budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 that begins July 1 to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Tuesday as required by the state constitution.

Though the governor is required to present a budget proposal, the Legislature will ultimate craft the final draft.

Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Lafayette Regional Airport's new terminal on January 19, 2022.
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Lafayette Regional Airport's new terminal on January 19, 2022.

Among the highlights:

► $1,500 pay raises for K-12 teachers and $750 raises for school support staff at a $148.4 million cost;

► $31.7 million for higher education faculty pay raises;

► $97.2 million in other higher education funding increases like Go Grants and Title IX;

► $10.5M in free community college tuition for adults 21 and older in five high demand fields. "It's going to make an impact on generations to come," Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan has told USA Today Network;

► $43 million to expand early childhood education;

► $1.1 billion for new infrastructure projects, including $500 million toward a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge, $100 million toward a new I-10 Calcasieu Parish bridge, $100 million to complete the I-49 Lafayette Connector and $500 million for water and sewer projects statewide;

► $550 million to replenish the state's unemployment trust fund to prevent triggering a tax on all businesses (the state's unemployment trust fund was drained during the COVID-19 pandemic);

Louisiana will have about $800 million more to spend from its own increased tax revenues and hundreds of millions more in federal pandemic funding.

Edwards said education — and particularly teacher pay raises — should be at the front of the line.

"How do we get off bottom of lists?" Edward said. "The single most important thing is education. Education cures a lot of ills.

"I believe the first call on (new) recurring revenue should be teacher pay raises. We can't afford not to pay our teachers more."

Edwards said the second priority should be infrastructure.

"We're going to turn what once were dreams into realities," he said, noting that he believes a new Baton Rouge bridge "is the most important infrastructure priority in Louisiana." It's also the most expensive at upward of $10 billion.

Much of the infrastructure funding will come from one-time money like the $700 million current-year budget surplus.

"I think we created something in my budget proposal we can be proud of and easily something the Legislature can embrace and support," Edwards said.

Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette recently told USA Today Network his focus for the surplus will also be on funding infrastructure projects.

"Traditionally we haven't had money dedicated annually to infrastructure projects so when we get a surplus I consider that a priority for a one-time investment that will continue to pay dividends for decades," Cortez said.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Here's how Governor John Bel Edwards wants to spend revenue bonanza

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