Executive budget is a good beginning
Louisiana’s financial picture is in surprisingly strong shape after the economic and social upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2023-24 executive budget is a responsible proposal that would make much-needed investments in public education and services for the state’s most vulnerable children, while reaffirming Louisiana’s commitment to building up its financial reserves for an inevitable rainy day.
The budget includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, and $1,000 more for support workers – and possibly more if the state’s revenue projections continue to improve. There is more money for college faculty, and an extra $12.5 million and 73 new full-time staff for the Department of Children and Family Services to help the agency bring on more staff to handle child welfare cases.
The Go Grant program, which provides need-based college scholarships, would get a $15 million increase to help students from low-income families offset the cost of college.
It also includes $111 million to help the Department of Health manage the end of pandemic protections for people on Medicaid – a critical new investment as more than 400,000 low-income people were added to program during the pandemic, many of whom could lose their health coverage as the state resumes eligibility determinations starting in April.
But the budget recommendations are also notable for what’s not included. A $52 million investment in early care and education won’t cover a $200 million shortfall left by the expiration of federal funding. The state’s troubled juvenile justice system is facing a $2.1 million cut in next year’s budget. And Louisiana’s teachers and college faculty will continue to be paid below their Southern and national peers despite the increases called for in this budget.
The budget should also serve as an important election-year reminder to lawmakers that the state can only invest the revenue it is willing to raise through taxes and fees. Earlier actions by the Legislature have left the state facing an $800 million revenue shortfall in 2025. The last thing lawmakers should be doing is making this problem worse by passing new tax breaks. Instead, the Legislature should pick a responsible path by acting now to replace the revenue that is being lost, so the state can continue making the kind of investments that will move Louisiana’s economy forward.