Gov. John Bel Edwards will recommend a budget to the Legislature today that calls for no cuts to state programs and a small pay increase for public school teachers, support workers and higher education faculty. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that federal recovery aid and higher-than-normal Medicaid reimbursements are propping up the state economy – and next year’s budget – after projected revenue shortfalls:
“We’re in a better place than many thought possible,” Edwards said. “This is some hopeful and bright news in a period of time that really hasn’t been so bright.” In addition to avoiding cuts, Edwards said he’ll also recommend that lawmakers in the majority-Republican Legislature give a $400 annual salary increase to K-12 public school teachers and $200 pay bumps to support staff. He’s also proposing additional money to higher education, including dollars he wants steered to faculty salary hikes.
Average teacher pay in Louisiana has trailed the Southern average for more than a decade. The Legislature will review the governor’s budget recommendations and make changes during the two-month lawmaking session that starts in mid-April.
Louisiana slated for big vaccine boost
Louisiana public health officials announced the state’s largest delivery of Covid-19 vaccine doses should arrive next week. Louisiana will be receiving nearly 98,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and up to 38,000 additional doses if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as is expected. As JC Canicosa of the Louisiana Illuminator notes, this is exciting news:
“This is very, very exciting for us for a number of reasons,” Joe Kanter, the state’s chief medical officer, said at the press conference. Kanter said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “significantly easier to use because it only requires one dose — while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine both require two doses — and doesn’t have the same ultra cold storage requirements that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have.”
Sam Karlin of the Advocate writes that these vaccines come at a critical time for Louisiana, as the state announced a large expansion of who is eligible for vaccination, including K-12 teachers and employees in higher education. As of Thursday, about 332,000 people – 7% of Louisiana’s population – has completed the full regiment of two-dose vaccines available so far. But as more vaccine options become available, officials warned against skipping opportunities for vaccination based on reported effectiveness:
Kanter cautioned people against comparing that data against the data that showed Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have more than 90% effectiveness. He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100% effective in preventing death from COVID-19, which is the goal of the mass vaccination effort. “It’s a very good vaccine,” Kanter said. “One shot is great. Don’t pass up the opportunity … Don’t fall into the trap of trying to parse one versus the other.”
Internet Superhighway 90, courtesy of LUS Fiber
Lafayette’s LUS Fiber, a municipally owned Internet provider, has been awarded a $3.1 million federal grant by the Economic Development Administration to construct 47 miles of high-speed internet infrastructure along U.S. Highway 90. As reported by Andrew Capps of the Daily Advertiser, this will allow LUS Fiber to service communities, businesses and essential health care and research facilities in Iberia Parish with reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet:
“This will help growing communities in Acadiana to deploy high speed fiber optic internet service to support remote working, telehealth and distance learning,” EDA Regional Director Jorge Ayala said Thursday. “This investment is expected to support a total of over 650 businesses along the U.S. Highway 90 corridor, including the Iberia Parish Emergency Operations Center, the Acadiana Regional Airport, a behavioral health clinic in New Iberia and four industrial parks. It’s also expected to spur $26 million in private investment.”
Broadband internet access has been a serious challenge for many Louisianans during the Covid-19 pandemic, making this welcome news and a promising opportunity to test how well publicly owned utilities can help meet the internet needs of Louisianans.
Fight for $15 hits a parliamentary road block
The U.S. Senate’s parliamentarian ruled against including a $15 minimum wage as part of the $1.9 trillion economic recovery package that is moving through Congress. The wage increase was already in trouble thanks to opposition from two Democratic senators in the evenly-divided upper chamber. Caitlin Emma, Burgess Everet and Marianne Levine of Politico report that Democrats don’t plan to give up yet:
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”
Number of the Day:
10% – The increase in personal income for Americans in the month of January according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. This increase was due largely to federal economic relief checks and helped increase consumer spending by 2.4%. (Source: New York Times)