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Louisiana governor pushes university faculty pay higher with veto pen

Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.
Wallis Watkins
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has used his veto power to give higher education faculty a larger pay raise than the one legislators approved last month.

Edwards restored funding for the LSU, Southern University and the University of Louisiana systems by a total of $8.7 million. The extra money is supposed to be used to pay for larger faculty salaries starting July 1.

With the governor’s vetoes, faculty pay is expected to increase by an average of 5%, though the actual raise could vary by faculty member. Lawmakers had only included a 3% faculty raise when they passed the budget in May.

To cover the cost of the increased faculty pay, Edwards removed $5 million from Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s state marketing budget and moved around $1 million for a new chiller at Delgado Community College. The remaining $2.7 million needed will come from unallocated funds in the state spending plan.

In addition to faculty, the governor and lawmakers have already agreed to increase pay for K-12 teachers and school staff, prison guards, state employees who work on child welfare and health care workers who assist people with disabilities.

Lawmakers had initially said they included a smaller faculty pay raise than the governor wanted so they could provide more targeted funding for hard-to-recruit jobs in higher education. Pennington Biomedical Research Center is receiving an extra $250,000 to offer some of its faculty more money and LSU was allocated an extra $2 million to pay for “cancer-related” position. Those allocations will remain unchanged, even when faculty receives more money across the board.

Republican leadership pushed their budget proposal through the Legislature weeks earlier than usual this year in order to force the Democratic governor to issue budget bill vetoes before the lawmakers’ session ends Monday. Lawmakers thought they would have a better chance at overriding the governor’s budget changes if they were still meeting for the regular session when the vetoes came down.

So far though, there does not appear to be much appetite in the Legislature to try and override vetoes that fund a higher education faculty salary hike. It’s also not clear the Republican leaders would have enough votes to overturn the governor’s decision. Outside of raising faculty pay, Edwards did not make any other changes to the lawmakers’ budget plan. Unlike last year, he did not remove any of the approximately $100 million in local pet projects lawmakers have inserted into the state’s spending proposal to help them pay for their local parks, nonprofits, churches and road projects.

The governor said, in his veto letter, that Nungesser was comfortable with the $5 million budget cut made to the lieutenant governor’s office in order to cover the higher education pay raise. But Nungesser could also see some of that funding restored if the governor decides to issue another veto.

Edwards could free up an additional $3.3 million of Nungesser’s funding if he ends up vetoing House Speaker Clay Schexnayder’s bill to transfer authority over the Capitol complex buildings from the governor to the lieutenant governor. That funding has been set aside for Capitol complex maintenance in the lieutenant governor’s budget, but it would become available if the speaker’s legislation doesn’t end up becoming law.

Schexnayder’s legislation has not come up for a final vote in the Senate yet, but is expected to get legislative approval over the next couple of days. The Speaker and Senate President Page Cortez are considering a run for lieutenant governor in 2023, and Schexnayder is pushing multiple bills to increase the lieutenant governor’s power.

The governor’s administration criticized Schexnayder’s proposal to move oversight of the buildings, which includes the Capitol, to the lieutenant governor as being inefficient.

The lieutenant governor doesn’t have the maintenance staff required to take care of the facilities, according to the governor’s team. The Division of Administration, which is controlled by the governor, has that expertise because it oversees the upkeep of state buildings across Louisiana, not just the Capitol complex.

Some of the motivation for transferring responsibility over the Capitol complex seems to be about the condition of the state-owned apartments where dozens of legislators reside. Most lawmakers live in the Pentagon Barracks during session, which is part of the Capitol complex.

Lawmakers have complained the Pentagon apartments are in bad shape, with water damage and poor air conditioning. They said the Edwards administration hasn’t done enough to address their ongoing maintenance problems.

Still, Schexnayder may have also complicated the debate about who should control the Capitol complex by using public money to pay his stepsons to upgrade his own Pentagon apartment last year.

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