BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards has kicked off Louisiana’s annual budget negotiations with lawmakers by suggesting a more than $36 billion spending plan for next year.

He's asking lawmakers to use federal pandemic aid to avoid cuts while also steering new dollars to education by giving modest pay raises to public school teachers - a $400 salary increase to K-12 public school teachers and $200 to support staff - and new money to colleges. TOPS will also see an increase in funding due to increased student eligibility for the program.

“This is some hopeful and bright news in a period that frankly has not been so bright,” said Edwards.

 

The governor’s state operating budget recommendations were released Friday at a joint House and Senate budget hearing. The budget proposal is rosier than expected. Louisiana’s tax collections are rebounding, though not enough to match pre-pandemic levels.

The Edwards administration wants to use continuing federal coronavirus aid, including the CARES Act, to close gaps. The budget does not include the over $100 million in loans the state owes the federal government due to the depletion of the unemployment insurance trust fund. Edwards also cited increased federal support for Medicaid.

Edwards said the budget does not take into consideration any additional federal aid. Congressional Democrats proposed $1.9 trillion dollar American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion in state aid plus additional funding for healthcare and education programs.

The budget would grow $186 million next year in Edwards’ recommendations. Nearly two-thirds of the increase would be steered to K-12 pay raises and college programs.

(Story written by Melinda Deslatte/AP & Matt Doyle/Louisiana Radio Network)