BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – State economists recognized hundreds of millions of extra cash the state legislature has to spend. Now the administration is calling for teacher pay raises and other investments to be put back into the budget.

The Revenue Estimating Conference recognized an extra $323 million for the current budget and next year has an additional $483 million that lawmakers can spend. This is on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars already recognized in surplus and excess the budget is working with. The administration is calling on the Senate to put back the teacher pay raises, as well as investments into early childhood education that were removed on the House side.

“We created a plan that is 3% less than the expenditure budget while giving the division and agencies most of the expenditure authority that they request,” said State Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

House leadership made drastic changes to the governor’s proposed budget by taking out the $2,000 teacher pay raises, $51 million for backfilling lost federal funding for early childhood education and other investments. They did this in favor of not exceeding the constitutional spending cap – it would take a ⅔ vote of both chambers to make such a move.

The Commissioner of Administration said the teacher retirement debt is already on track to be paid off by 2029. He’d rather make the proposed major investments while the money is there. 

“Makes perfect sense to prepay some of your mortgage debt. But if you have a leaky roof, if you have something that needs to be fixed and you have one-time money, that would address a critical need that’s important to you as a family, you ought to use the money for that purpose instead of prepaying a debt that has already been scheduled to be paid,” Commissioner Jay Dardenne said.

House Republicans believe their plan will better prepare for a potential fiscal cliff in the future. State economists said Thursday they aren’t seeing a major drop off even with the half-cent sales tax rolling off and some of the vehicle tax being shifted to a construction sub-fund, but rather a soft landing and revenue leveling out over the next several years.

“The reality is, from the state’s perspective, we’re going to always have holes in a roof. It’s not like you’re going to meet that obligation and be done with it,” said Zeringue. “We’re always going to have projects. We’re always going to have needs.”

The administration gave guidelines for money they’d like to see restored in the budget such as funding for higher education, supplemental pay for first responders, and also suggested using the newly available excess funds to pay for major bridge projects.

Senators have just three weeks to send a final budget back to the House for approval to send to the governor.

Senate Finance, the powerful money committee, said they want to hear from a number of departments about how the different budget plans will impact them before they start amending HB1.

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