Louisiana House Republican leaders say that they’re taking a conservative financial stance by refusing to change the state’s income forecast. But what they may accomplish is ruining Governor John Bel Edward’s plan to include a pay raise for public teachers in next year’s budget proposal.
Economists for both the Legislature and the Edwards administration have twice recommended that the Revenue Estimating Conference raise Louisiana’s income projections, saying that economic modeling and state tax collection support the increase. The income projections determine how much money the governor and state lawmakers can spend in the budget each year. Modifying the projections requires a unanimous vote from the four-member Revenue Estimating Conference.
Although House Speaker Taylor Barras and House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry claim that their refusal to approve the income projections aren’t intended to block the teacher pay raises, it’s hard to ignore the political implications.
The move puts at risk a promise that Governor Edwards has made to teacher’s unions, which make up a large part of his base. In a year where Edwards is seeking reelection, failing to follow through could prove particularly damaging.
In November, Jim Randalls, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans threatened a strike if teachers didn’t receive a commitment from state lawmakers on pay raises. Currently, Louisiana teachers make under $50,000 per year – around $2,200 less than average teacher pay in surrounding states. According to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, 61 percent of teachers in the state support a strike if state and local leaders don’t do something to address the issue.
“There’s no reason for any work stoppage in order to bring attention to this issue that would interrupt the education of our children,” said Gov. Edwards. “It just doesn’t need to happen; in fact, it could be counterproductive.”
Although the two House GOP leaders have spoken of uncertainty in the state’s corporate tax collections, plunging oil prices, and federal tax changes, other members of their party don’t agree. Republican Senate President John Alario and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne both support raising the projections.
“Things are better,” said Dardenne. “You can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend they’re not better.”
The proposed pay raises outlined by Edwards include $1,000 for teachers and a $500 increase for school support staff like cafeteria workers and teacher aides. He also promised a three-year plan that would raise Louisiana teacher salaries to the Southern average.
In addition to potentially stalling teacher pay raises, the decision has more immediate effects as well. A list of $43 million spending plans, mainly public safety programs, could remain unfulfilled as well.
While Barras says that he prefers to wait until March to make forecast changes (which is past the deadline for the governor’s budget proposal), Dardenne disagrees. “We don’t need to put teachers through this uncertainty based upon what the economists are telling us. We think and we believe we have additional revenue, and to make that a question mark at this point is irresponsible.”
According to current projections, Louisiana is expected to have $162 million more in general state tax income next budget year.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.