The proposed budget unveiled Friday by Gov. John Bel Edwards is a good start toward making the investments Louisiana needs to reduce age-old barriers that keep so many people in our state from reaching their full potential.
A strong economy is one that works for everyone in Louisiana, and that starts with education. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 includes $25 million in new investments in early childhood education, $30 million in new funding for public higher education and $39 million more for local public school districts. There is also more funding for need-based college scholarships, and funding to modernize the state’s computer systems so that services can be delivered more efficiently.
These new funding recommendations are in addition to $534 million left over from the FY19 budget, which can be used to pay down debt, sock away money for a rainy day and make much-needed investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
But the budget is also a reminder of how far Louisiana must go to catch up with the rest of the South in creating a stronger and more equitable economy. Public school teacher pay remains below the Southern average, and no money in the budget directly targets raises. Colleges and universities are still funded below peer institutions. And Louisiana still won’t come close to meeting the demand for high-quality, affordable child care services that allow parents to go to work or continue their education.
To be sure, the governor’s and the Legislature’s hands are tied this year. The 2020 Legislature will be a regular session, where lawmakers can move money around between priorities but cannot raise new revenues to address the state’s needs. That means the important work of tax reform – which is the key to developing a budget that’s adequate to meet the state’s needs – will have to wait until 2021 at the earliest.
As the Legislature starts its review of the governor’s recommendations, the most important thing is that we not take a step backwards by refusing to adopt a realistic, up-to-date revenue forecast. Legislative leaders should stop substituting their arbitrary opinions for the reasoned judgment of the state’s economists—doing so would reduce the money available to fund education, or else force unnecessary cuts to other priorities.
A better path would be for the Revenue Estimating Conference to adopt an updated forecast based on sound economic projections, so the Legislature can go about the important work of setting priorities for 2021 and putting Louisianans on a more solid foundation for the future.