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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Louisiana House panel pushes budget; Debate set on Thursday

FILE - The Louisiana Capitals are seen on January 21, 2021 in Baton Rouge, LA.  A legislative committee Monday, April 18, 2022, advanced major budget legislation for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  The proposed main operating budget controls spending of more than $38 billion in federal and state revenue.  (AP Photo/Melinda Deslet, FILE)

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FILE – The Louisiana Capitals are seen on January 21, 2021 in Baton Rouge, LA. A legislative committee Monday, April 18, 2022, advanced major budget legislation for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The proposed main operating budget controls spending of more than $38 billion in federal and state revenue. ( Associated Press Photo/Melinda Deslet, FILE)

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FILE – The Louisiana Capitals are seen on January 21, 2021 in Baton Rouge, LA. A legislative committee Monday, April 18, 2022, advanced major budget legislation for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The proposed main operating budget controls spending of more than $38 billion in federal and state revenue. ( Associated Press Photo/Melinda Deslet, FILE)

Baton Rouge, La. ( Associated Press) — A Louisiana House panel on Monday upgraded a proposed state operating budget that includes $148 million for pay increases for teachers and school support staff and $104 million for higher education faculty pay increases, but Proposed $100-per-month increase in state supplemental pay for local police and firefighters.

Still in the air as the $38 billion state operating budget and related budget bills left the House Appropriations Committee on Monday were the future of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to allocate $500 million in one-time revenue toward a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge, a project administration official said could ultimately cost about $2.5 billion.

Initial bridge funding, along with education pay increases, was one of the priorities Edwards made in his annual budget proposal earlier this year.

After facing several years of tight budgets, proposals were made as lawmakers prepared to debate how to best spend the influx of higher tax revenues and more than $2.8 billion in one-time revenues – federal $1.4 billion from pandemic aid, $700 million of surplus for the 2021 fiscal year and $853 million over-planned revenue for the current year.

As the committee prepares to move budget legislation to the full House for a planned Thursday debate, Speaker Jerome Zeringue, a Houma Republican, raised the allocation for early childhood education initiatives, clean water programs and $500 million. Along with the money raised, education was increased. To renew the State Unemployment Trust Fund. That allocation, the backers said, would prevent Louisiana businesses facing a boom in unemployment insurance costs from replenishing a fund when the coronavirus pandemic caused major job losses.

But the committee approved an amendment setting aside supplemental pay increases for parish and municipal police and firefighters. Jonesboro Republican Rep. Jack McFarland said the proposed increase, along with other laws that could add more local-level emergency workers to those already receiving supplemental wages, could ultimately put financial pressure on the state.

“Granted, we’re worth much more than what we’re providing,” Zeringue said. “But this is a recurring expense and we need to try to get local governments involved as well as support their local fire and police.”

Rep. Dustin Miller, a Democrat from Opelousas, expressed hope that supplemental wage increases could be reinstated in the budget after the state panel, the Revenue Estimates Convention, gets to meet its official revenue projection, which means more money. may come.

As for the bridge, Republican legislative leaders have been slow to support Edwards’ proposal, saying the money could sit for years without access while plans for the bridge take shape. Zeringue said on Monday that the leaders of the House and Senate are discussing the issue. Meanwhile, the panel advanced Monday amid legislation proposing “revitalizing and developing infrastructure in all of Louisiana.” Zeringue described the Radial Fund as a place to “park” the non-recurring revenue Edwards wants to use for the bridge while discussions are ongoing.

Edwards’ top financial official, Administration Commissioner Jay Darden, reiterated the administration’s argument that the money now needed to be dedicated to the bridge. He said site recommendations for the bridge are expected in the coming months. He said the $500 million commitment for the project would help the state get competitive grants and other funding for the project with a potential total cost of $2.5 billion.

“I like the concept of the radial fund, I hope the Mississippi River bridge isn’t a spare tire,” Darden said.

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