“One of the easiest budget processes”

Last week, the House nearly unanimously passed the proposed budget and sent it to the Senate for the next steps in the budget process. The Chairman accepted 95% of the amendments that I proposed, leaving just a small amount of disagreement on how the state should spend its resources. Despite a handful of early hiccups, this year’s budget making process has been relatively smooth and cooperative. In fact, Representative Cameron Henry, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said it was “one of the easiest budget processes we’ve gone through,” in the twelve years he’s been at the Capitol.

So, why is the process so “easy” this year? Well, it’s not a miracle. It has come as the result of several years of deliberate legislation and disciplined spending policies designed to create financial stability after years of inherited budget crises and manufactured fiscal cliffs. When this Governor and this legislature stood firm over the last three years to do away with the practice of using one-time money for recurring expenditures, we improved the ability of the state to invest in priorities, like education and healthcare. When we set aside the smoke and mirrors used in the past to structure the budget and instead focused on building a budget to last, we were able to avoid mid-year budget cuts and finish last year with a surplus to be reinvested in our Rainy Day Fund, coastal protection projects, and capital infrastructure investments. Marred by partisan fighting and gridlock, the legislature pushed forward through special session after special session, year after year, to arrive at this place. It was far from “easy.”

Ultimately, we overcame it together. We built a balanced, secure and sustainable budget. We learned our lesson.

Or at least I thought we did.

Now, some House Republicans are arguing that our teacher pay raises should just be included as a one-time line item in this year’s budget. They have refused to support the pay increases as a part of the structural, recurring funding mechanism that the Governor and Democrats have supported that would codify and annualize these much-deserved pay raises and invest more dollars in classrooms across the state for the first time in years. By rejecting the MFP (the k-12 funding formula), they are subjecting teacher pay raises to the whim of politicians from one year to the next. By doing this, they are making a statement that their support is not long-lived, that it is merely a fleeting political statement of its own. By doing this, they are demonstrating that they have learned nothing.

James W. Frick once said, “Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”

We have the opportunity to keep building our priorities and structurally weave them into our budget. The budget is a moral document that reflects what is dear and important to the people of Louisiana. Everyone says our teachers are important. Everyone believes our teachers are important. So let’s show them that we mean it.

Walt Leger