State lawmakers approve a budget that leaves many scratching their head, including the governor

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The 2023 legislative session ended with a wild finish Thursday as state lawmakers scrambled to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. Even Governor John Bel Edwards does not have a complete command of the specifics. But he knows the spending plan approved contains a 100-million dollar cut to the Louisiana Department of Health.

“It was a complete surprise to me, I suspect it was a surprise to 99% of the members who voted downstairs,” said Edwards.

The 100-million dollar cut to LDH could multiply if what’s cut is tied to federal matching dollars.

Edwards is also disappointed teachers received a $2,000 pay raise, when he pushed for a $3,000 raise. Also, the $2,000 raise is just a one-time bump, not guaranteed for the following year. He says with a huge surplus of state dollars available, teachers deserve to be compensated well.

“If you’re not going to try and get your teachers to the Southern Regional Average this year, what you are really saying is we don’t value our teachers in Louisiana like other states do in the South,” said Edwards.

House and Senate leaders spent all day behind closed doors ironing out a final budget agreement before presenting it to the full House and Senate with less than a hour to go before a 6 PM deadline. Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Fred Mills also surprised with the cut to LDH.

“A 100-million dollar cut in LDH with a budget surplus, what’s the rationale for that,” said Mills.

Senate President Page Cortez says during the budget negotiations the House wanted to reduce LDH funding in order to pay down more debt. Cortez says lawmakers will make sure health care services will not suffer.

Denham Springs Senator and former Livingston Parish School Superintendent Rogers Pope pleaded with his colleagues to reject the budget proposal because the teacher pay raise is not permanent and not enough.

“We are still going to insult 100,000 people, when we have got money that can be used to do the things we need to do,” said Pope.

Despite Pope’s argument, the main budget bill passed the Senate 35 to 3 and 95 to 9 in the House.

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