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As Revenue Stalemate Continues, Edwards' Administration Offers Wishful Budget Proposal

Wallis Watkins
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presents the Administration's budget proposal for next fiscal year to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

Governor John Bel Edwards’ administration  presented a $31 billion proposal for next year’s budget on Friday. But before it can become a reality, a legislative stalemate would have to break. 

In an unorthodox move, the Governor’s budget proposal includes more money than the state can allocate right now, making Edwards' recommendation more hopeful than it is official.

State economists believe Louisiana’s revenue will increase by about $130 million in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. But over the past four months, Speaker of the House Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) has blocked the state’s ability to spend that additional money.

Barras defended his reluctance to increase revenue projections.  He says he'd rather go forward with a conservative estimate in order to avoid mid-year budget cuts and that there’s still too much uncertainty in Louisiana’s economy to increase the state's spending power. 

“The later we wait in the year, the better we get. The margin of error gets smaller and smaller,” said Barras.

Governor Edwards' chief budget executive, Jay Dardenne, told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that current revenue estimates - adopted last June - don't accurately reflect how much the state expects to bring in for fiscal year 2020.

Not included in the June estimates are billions in dedicated funds for agencies.  Without that money, Dardenne warned of major reductions to state departments, like the Department of Revenue and the Department of Environmental Quality.

"It makes no sense for you to contemplate a budget like that because it is divorced from reality", said Dardenne.

If Speaker Barras changes course and votes to adopt the additional revenue, Edwards is proposing funding increases to higher education and TOPS, as well as a $140 million increase to K-12 education, the majority of which would fund a $1,000 teacher pay raise and a $500 raise for support staff. Legislators will begin crafting the budget in April.