Senate leaders endorse $300 million for new bridge in Baton Rouge; ‘Well on its way’ | Legislature

The state Senate leaders endorsed spending $300 million to build a bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. The House is expected support the plan.

Teachers will receive a $1,500 increase in teacher pay, rather than the $2,000 per annum boost that Gov. Edwards promised. John Bel Edwards is pushing to have a series bills quickly approved by Senate Finance Committee. But local law enforcement – parish sheriff deputies and municipal police officers – would receive a pay boost that is designed as kind of a one-time only bonus. The governor wanted the police raise removed by the House, and the Senate added it back, but in a way that would require legislative approval next to repeat this year’s increase.

The Senate made several changes to the House’s budget. A $20 million boost will be given to tourism marketing. Entry-level prison guards and child welfare workers – two professions for which the state has had trouble hiring – will be offered more money. The state will also pay more to Medicaid providers for services such as ambulance transport, pediatrician clinics, and intermediate care.

These plans, which outline half a dozen bills, represent a compromise between Senate leaders and House leaders. Final approval could be given to the state operating budget of nearly $39 trillion by Friday.

Jerome, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee “Zee”Zeringue, R.Houma, as well as Bodi white, R.Central, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, are confident that the House will accept the changes made to Senate Finance. In the past, the Senate and the House have often disagreed and had to come up with a spending plan in the last hours of session.

“We did most of the things the House asked,”White stated this in the Senate redraft spending legislation. “It’s been on ongoing discussion with the House and the administration.”

“It has been a seamless process,”Zeringue stated.

Sunday’s meeting of the Senate was at 5 p.m. to officially approve the budget bills as amended earlier that day. The Senate hopes for a final vote Tuesday. The House must agree on the final calculations, and wording by Friday at 5 p.m. That would put the bills on the governor’s desk in time for lawmakers to possibly override any line-items vetoes by the governor before adjournment on June 6. 

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Edwards has asked for $500 million to build the Baton Rouge bridge. It could cost as high as $3 billion.

The House budget approved $400 million but did not specify how it would go. Senate leaders will negotiate the final version in late session.

Senator President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) stated that $200 million was originally targeted for the bridge.

After lawmakers received assurances from Edwards that the money would be used quickly, including costly upgrades to La., the amount was increased to $300 million. Hwy. 30 on the East Side that will serve as a key connector with the bridge to Interstate 10.

Backers believe that $300 million is the minimum required and that it could generate an additional $150 million in federal matching funds.

“I am a little disappointed in terms of the mega project given the scope of it, but I am very impressed we are making a big investment in infrastructure in general,”Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development said Sunday.

From a variety revenue sources, the Senate spending plans would also include $200m for I-49 South between Lafayette, New Orleans, and $200m for a new Bridge in Lake Charles. There would also be $150 million for highway and bridge preservation.

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Like their House counterparts in the Senate, Senate leaders had rejected Edwards’ $500million request. This was partly because no site has been chosen for the bridge.

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Ten finalists are now in the mix. A state panel will likely reduce that number to three before the end of June or the month.

White noted that the bridge will likely be able to borrow about $50,000,000 per year through a Cortez sponsored bill. This bill tweaks a 2021 Law moving 60% of motor vehicle sales taxes from Louisiana’s general funds to one for roads or bridges.

“I think it is well on its way,”White spoke of the bridge. “It was quite a struggle to hold $300 million.”

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Edwards requested that his $1,500 teacher raise and $750 support worker raise be increased to $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, after the Revenue Estimating Conference last Wednesday recognized more than $100,000,000 in newly-available dollars for 2022-23.

Cortez claimed that the Senate decided to keep $1.500, partly because senators want local tax payers to do more for teacher pay.

“We want to be partners,”Cortez spoke of funding by the state and local governments. “We don’t want to be pulling the cart without help.”

Zeringue explained that $3,300 has been allocated by the Legislature to raise teacher salaries over the past four year. 

The average annual salary of teachers in this region is $51,566, which is 12th among 16 states monitored under the Southern Regional Education Board.

The Senate spending plan would also reduce faculty raises of 5 percent, as passed in the House to 3 percent.

Cortez stated that colleges and universities are likely to receive other funding to help recruit professors.

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White also stated that the spending plans include $8,000,000 to purchase cameras for the classrooms 9,000 of the state’s most challenging special education students. This is a long-term goal of Sen. Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge) and many parents.

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