Another budget battle brewing in Louisiana legislature

Republican leadership rejects revenue forecast that would help governor offer teacher pay raises

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For the third time, House Republican leadership has objected to rosier revenue collection forecasts that would help Governor John Bel Edwards include certain campaign promises, like pay raises for teachers, in his first executive budget.

Thursday, Jan. 17, the state’s top economists predicted the state will collect around $130 million more than expected because the economy is improving. It’s essentially the same prediction they made at the last Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meeting in December of 2018.

“There is a lot of noise in these numbers,” House Speaker Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia said as he objected to the adoption of new numbers. The four-person REC must be unanimous in its decision.

Barras has been the lone holdout in the last two meetings, and Appropriations Chair Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, objected in the speaker’s place in November.

“I will stand by, hoping that we do have an increase in the forecast,” Barras said. “I just think we do a better job of estimating what that truly is with as much of the information as we can before the fiscal year is over.”

The REC frequently adopts new forecasts, and Barras acknowledged in the meeting there will probably be some surplus amount.

Gov. Edwards has said he’d like to use some projected surplus in 2019’s budget to fund teacher pay raises, a campaign promise he said he’d like to fulfill as he runs for re-election. Constitutionally, his budget cannot appropriate more money than the REC has recognized. That means he could have to propose cuts to other agencies to balance the budget if he wants to include pay raises in its first iteration. If he does not include them, the Republican-controlled House would likely add the raises in by amending the budget in the appropriations committee.

“I would certainly support giving anything we can to teachers, but setting up the expectation that there is a raise forthcoming is a little premature until we know how we’re paying for it,” Barras said.

LSU economist, Jim Richardson, Dardenne, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, all voted in favor of the economists' projections.

The REC could meet again next month to give Barras an opportunity to change his mind, although he indicated Thursday he would like to wait until spring to make a change.

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