LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The legislative session is still months away, but Governor John Bel Edwards is already laying out his priorities for the new year.
Teacher pay raises and increasing the minimum wage by a little more than a dollar are only some of the issues Edwards plans to tackle.
He’s been proposing a minimum wage increase for some time now, hoping to raise the current $7.25 to $8.50, but, many are concerned that a minimum wage hike could result in a cut in employees and hours at their businesses.
“That’s what they’ve always said. That’s what they’ve said in the past as to why the congress shouldn’t raise the minimum wage, but it’s never been our experience. With a modest but meaningful increase, and by the way, that hasn’t been the experience elsewhere in the country, where you’ve had these types of increases as well," Edwards said. Nobody should get confused here, there are some places, some cities especially, that they’re moving to a $15 minimum wage, I’m not doing that here in Louisiana.”
Another priority for Edwards in 2019 is to give teachers and support staff their first pay raise in a decade. He wants to give teachers an extra $1,000 and $500 for others. He said he wants to give those employees a raise by the beginning of the next school year, but, where will that funding come from?
“The total cost of these initiatives is $135 million, we can pay for it through the growth in revenue that we’re experiencing because of the economy, which is doing so much better than our economist forecasted," Edwards said. "So, this is the right time, we have the revenue to pay for it and it’s an investment we have to make.”
Edwards said economists are showing $120 to $150 million above the revenue forecast.
“We had more people working making more money, and more businesses more profitable than they had forecasted,” he said.
Some in southwest Louisiana have voiced concerns about the money the state was missing out on by granting big businesses tax breaks.
“We looked at it and said ‘you can’t really justify having an exemption that’s that generous.’ So, we curtailed it to make sure in year one, going forward, these manufacturers would come onto the property tax rolls and the exemption would be worth 80 percent," Edwards said. "Still one of the most generous in the country, but in year one 20 percent of the property taxes would be paid, that’s the first five years and there would be a second five year term they could qualify for as well.”
This year’s legislative session will begin April 8.