Louisiana governor releases his new budget proposal Friday

By MELINDA DESLATTE ,  Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The release of a Louisiana governor’s annual budget recommendations typically follows a well-worn script, with charts, reams of financial figures and agency-by-agency comparisons. Things likely will be far muddier Friday with the release of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest budget proposal.

The last financial forecast for the upcoming 2019-20 budget year was adopted in June. Those figures, however, don’t reflect the recommendations of state economists who expect tax collections to be higher, and they’re missing billions that agencies expect to receive from fees, fines and other revenue sources.

Forecast changes are stalled in the latest disagreement between House Republican leaders and the Democratic Edwards administration. Under state law, Louisiana’s governor is supposed to use the last official forecast to build his budget proposal.

The Edwards administration hasn’t said publicly what it will release Friday to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Edwards’ budget proposal could either be an aspirational document about what the governor believes is expected to show up in the state treasury and how he’d like to spend it, or it could be a proposal that leaves huge cuts and gaps across state agencies, without dollars that generally are expected to show up to fill those holes.

State law requires the Revenue Estimating Conference, the state income forecasting panel, to “revise the official forecast for the ensuing fiscal year” by January. But that hasn’t happened.

Across four months, House Speaker Taylor Barras or his surrogate has blocked the income forecast changes suggested by economists and sought by Edwards and Republican Senate President John Alario. The changes would make more money available for spending.

Barras said he’s being cautious, saying he doesn’t want to promise agencies money he doesn’t feel assured will arrive.

“I just feel that there is a good bit of uncertainty,” the New Iberia banker said at one forecasting meeting.

Edwards calls the move political, aimed at making it difficult for the governor to include a public school teacher raise in his budget proposal for next year.

“There’s a little gamesmanship going on … and we’re going to get past it. We’re going to have a responsible budget, and we’re going to have one that increases pay for our teachers and our support workers,” the governor said on his monthly radio show.

Edwards wants to give public school teachers a $1,000 raise and school support staff, such as teacher aides and cafeteria workers, a $500 pay bump. He also wants to give a separate block grant increase to school districts. The total package is estimated to cost about $135 million.