Capitol Views: State budget on the move

    It’s not a mistake or even coincidental that massage therapists, crisis counselors and firefighters will collectively be on hand Thursday morning in Memorial Hall, that long marbled stretch between the House and Senate chambers. That’s when the full lower chamber is expected to take up the state budget bill that was passed last week by the House Appropriations Committee.

    Speaking to reporters after passage, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards directly addressed the decision by the Republican-led committee to boost the expected pay raise to teachers while decreasing dollars that would end up in all public schools. “It will be a hollow victory for a teacher to get a raise on the one hand,” Edwards said from his press room, “and lay off notices on the other.”

    The committee advanced HB 105 by Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, which is the nearly $35 billion state spending plan for the next fiscal year. That document includes a $200 increase over the $1,000 pay raise Edwards wants to give teachers, as well as an extra $100, to $600, for school personnel.

    Left out of the committee-passed budget was nearly $40 million in block grants for elementary and secondary schools. That issue, in particular, may be a sticking point for House and Senate members as the budget bill approaches Edwards’ desk.

    Henry called the bill a “starting point,” which suggests further negotiations before the regular session adjourns June 6. Previously during this term, sessions required extensions, via special sessions, to complete budget work unresolved by legislators.

    By Thursday, some of the unanswered questions should be resolved as the full House takes up HB 105. In the Senate Finance Committee, however, where the budget bill will make its debut in the upper chamber, many legislators have a different vision of the spending plan that conflicts with the goals of the House and aligns more closely with the Edwards Administration.

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon in Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session.

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