The Louisiana House last week took a sensible budget proposal from Gov. John Bel Edwards and threw it into chaos, largely to avoid a politically difficult vote to exceed a self-imposed limit on spending. Unfortunately, the budget bill crafted by House conservatives fails to prioritize teachers, people with Medicaid coverage and parents with preschool children in order to pay down state retirement and pension debt. It also returns to Bobby Jindal-era budgeting by directing the Division of Administration, not lawmakers who crafted the plan, to implement a $95 million across-the-board cut to state agencies.  LBP state budget and tax policy analyst Paul Braun examines the proposal as the annual legislative session reaches the halfway point. 

How a state chooses to raise revenue – and divide that money among various needs –  is a clear declaration of its priorities. While the pension plans for teachers and state workers are important, there already are mechanisms in place to pay back debt that was incurred decades ago. Paying off some of these debts early will have no effect on any teacher’s retirement benefits – which are guaranteed in state law –  but it would mean that teachers across the state would not get a small raise to help them keep up with the rising cost of living. The good news is that the legislative session is only at the halfway point. The Senate is now reviewing the budget, and still has a chance to prioritize Louisiana’s teachers, Medicaid patients and families with young children. 

Genuflecting to oil and gas
Five of the candidates running to replace Gov. John Bel Edwards courted Louisiana’s powerful oil and gas industry on Wednesday. Two of the most pressing policies affecting oil and gas companies and the state’s environment were signed by Edwards via executive order and can be undone by his successor. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin explains where the candidates for the 2023 gubernatorial race stand on Edwards’ reforms to Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption program and plan for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

In an interview, [State Sen. Sharon Hewitt] she didn’t say whether she’d continue the state’s plan for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, calling the goal good and “aspirational” but saying “fossil fuels are not going away anytime soon.” [State Rep. Richard Nelson] He said he’d address the coastal lawsuits and ITEP issues making sweeping changes to Louisiana’s tax and legal structure, modeling it after Texas and other states that have seen population gains. He called ITEP a “band aid on bad tax policy that’s been around for 100 years.” ITEP under [Stephen Waguespack] his term would also be revamped to eliminate the vote of local governments, which he said has created a “question mark” around the state. He was also non-committal on whether he would support getting to net-zero by 2050, but said the oil and gas industry is changing dramatically and that he supports carbon capture and sequestration.

Teacher appreciation week marred by low salaries
Monday marked the start of teacher appreciation week, and many governors across the country are trying to show their gratitude by raising salaries. The gap between what teachers earn compared to their college-educated counterparts in other fields reached record levels in 2021, with educators earning an average 76.5 cents for every dollar earned by others. As the AP’s Marc Levy explains, these small raises are not enough to keep many teachers in classrooms as conditions worsen and inflation swallows up more and more of the pay increases.

For Rachaele Otto and other Louisiana teachers, the prospect of a $3,000 salary increase proposed by the governor might be appreciated. But at roughly $200 a month after taxes, it’s not enough to keep a teacher who feels burned out or demoralized, Otto said. “I know there are teachers willing to take pay cuts to leave the profession,” said Otto, 38, a science teacher in a rural Louisiana district. “If you double the salary, maybe that would change their thinking.” Sylvia Allegretto, a senior economist who studies teacher compensation for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, called salary promises by governors one-time “Band-Aids” that barely keep up with inflation.

Gov. John Bel Edwards included a $2,000 teacher pay raise in his budget proposal, which could grow to $3,000 if more revenue is recognized by a state forecasting panel. But state lawmakers have chosen to address Louisiana’s teacher shortage by lowering standards for entering the profession instead of raising salaries. 

U.S. House GOP wants spending cuts and billions in earmarks 
A meeting earlier this week between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders failed to produce meaningful movement on negotiations to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Republicans want to shrink the federal deficit without cuts to Social Security, Medicare or defense spending or any new tax increases, leaving deep spending cuts to other programs as the only option. But GOP lawmakers have also requested more than $10 billion in earmarks to be included in next year’s appropriations bills. States Newsrooms’ Ashley Murray and Ariana Figueroa report on the selective application of “fiscal conservatism” that has become common in Congress. 

All but a handful of House Republicans barely pushed through a bill that would temporarily raise the U.S. borrowing limit, but with stipulations for deep discretionary spending cuts and changes to federal programs, including wiping out new tax incentives meant to curb climate change and tightening access to food and medical assistance for low-income Americans. But the lawmakers — many members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus that demanded concessions from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy such as cuts to federal spending before handing him the gavel — are still hoping to bring money back to their constituents for projects including road and bridge construction, coastal and ecosystem restoration, airport upgrades, first responder mental health services and replacement of local law enforcement vehicles.

Number of the Day
0.4% – Increase in prices from March through April. Prices are up 4.9%
compared to the same time last year. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)