Louisiana’s state budget is supposed to reflect our values and priorities. But in his budget recommendations to the Legislature, Gov. Jeff Landry prioritized police and prisons over students and teachers; courts over colleges and universities. Read LBP’s statement on the 2024-25 executive budget: 

Every state budget involves difficult tradeoffs. With state revenues projected to be essentially flat, any money for new initiatives had to be taken from other parts of the budget. The governor’s budget wisely maintains Louisiana’s current investments in early childhood education and need-based college scholarships. But his recommendations do not include a permanent pay raise for teachers, and instead calls for maintaining the stipends that teachers received last year in lieu of a raise. 

The budget recommendations include less funding for key state agencies. 

Higher education is receiving $122 million less than it did last year. And the lack of pay raises for college faculty means it will continue to be difficult for state colleges and universities to recruit and retain quality professors and staff. The state’s beleaguered Office of Juvenile Justice is also facing a $7.6 million cut. The Department of Children and Family Services is receiving less state general fund revenue and will have 23 fewer staff than last year. 

As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains, not all teachers would receive a stipend like last year. 

Instead of an across-the-board pay raise, the governor wants lawmakers to consider using the same $198 million for incentive grants to school districts. It could also be reserved to increase pay solely for hard-to-fill positions, like math, science and rural teaching jobs, [Commissioner of Administration Taylor] Barras said. This means some teachers could see a boost in funding next year, but only if they teach in a certain school district or have a certain type of job. Those pay increases might also come at the expense of other teachers, who experience a pay cut from this year.

Many politicians complain about the size of the state budget and use it as a justification for cuts. But Louisiana is heavily reliant on federal funding, which makes up a huge chunk of the state budget

Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, said he was surprised to note that state spending has increased by only 3% per year on average over the past 20 years. “Our budget hasn’t really been bloated in essence over that 20-year period,” Abraham said.

Crime session seeks to undo effective reforms
Gov. Jeff Landry has called for a special legislative session on crime that would return Louisiana to ineffective policies of the past. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg Larose reports, the governor wants lawmakers to undo many of the bipartisan criminal justice reforms that the Legislature and voters approved of in 2017. 

Landry has also directed legislators to follow through on his promise to unravel former Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a host of changes made to state law in 2017 that centered on reducing the state’s nation-leading prison population. The package directed money saved from placing fewer people behind bars to reentry programs, victims services and programs within the juvenile justice system. Another Edwards initiatives targeted in Landry’s agenda directs lawmakers “to lower the age of a … child” for criminal trials and punishment, which would reverse “Raise the Age” policy the previous governor approved in 2016.

While crime was a pillar issue for Landry’s successful campaign for governor, the Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate columnist Clancy DuBos points out that violent crime has mostly declined statewide. 

In every Louisiana city except Shreveport, violent crime dropped significantly in 2023 — as it did nationwide, only more so here. Moreover, the criminal justice reforms enacted in 2017 dealt exclusively with nonviolent criminals, and citizens continue to support those reforms. Even the conservative Pelican Institute think tank found no correlation between the reforms and sporadic increases in violent crime

A win for fair districts
Louisiana’s legislative maps violate the Voting Rights Act and must be redrawn, a federal court judge ruled on Thursday. In her ruling, U.S. District Chief Judge Shelly Dick explained that the state’s current political boundaries for state lawmakers were created in a way that “does not give Black voters a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.” The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Meghan Friedmann reports on the victory for fair districts and how it could affect the current makeup of the Legislature: 

When the Legislature redrew the House and Senate maps, it added only one new majority-Black district, according to the lawsuit over those maps, which was filed in March of 2022 on behalf of the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and several Black Louisianans. To adequately represent the growth of the Black population in Louisiana, where Black residents make up about one-third of the state’s population, the Legislature should have added three new majority-Black districts in the Senate and between six and nine such districts in the House, those plaintiffs argued.

The maps that must be redrawn were used last fall to elect all members of the Legislature to four-year terms ending in 2027. But Dick’s ruling does not specify when the new maps would take effect. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson reports on how the Legislature could tackle another order to redraw racially gerrymandered maps. 

Louisiana Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said in an interview with the Illuminator that if the state has to enact new redistricting plans, he would prefer it happen in a regular session rather than an additional special session. The Legislature has already held a redistricting-related special session this year and is slated to go into a special session on crime Feb. 19. “It gives more time for members to actually do the math and gives more time for public input, public testimony and let members and their constituents have a voice in that process,” Henry said.

Legislative report critical of Blue Cross Sale
There are serious problems with the proposed sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to Elevance Health, according to a joint legislative report released on Thursday. Lawmakers are concerned that the sale of Louisiana’s largest insurer to a for-profit, out-of-state company could increase claim denials and premium costs, among other things. As the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel explains, the report also outlines the questionable tactics Blue Cross is using to secure support:

The report accuses the company of “vote steering,” arguing that policyholders are not receiving any unbiased information about the sale in the information packets they are receiving from Blue Cross. Policyholders will receive a $3,000 payment if the deal is approved. … The report also accused the company of “ballot influence techniques,” because proxy ballots show the “vote for” option in large, boldface type, while the “against’ option is in a much smaller font.

The Louisiana Hospital Association announced its opposition to the deal on Thursday because of Elevance’s shoddy track record in other states:

The Louisiana Hospital Association’s letter to the Insurance Commission raised a different set of concerns about the deal that also came to light during Monday’s testimony — the more than $26 million in fines Elevance Health has racked up since 2019 from state and federal regulators. 

Number of the Day
$7.6 million – Amount of reduced funding that is proposed for the state’s troubled Office of Juvenile Justice in Gov. Jeff Landry’s 2024-25 executive budget. (Source: Louisiana Division of Administration)