(12/20/18) Entering the final year of his first term, Louisiana’s governor plans to revive priorities he raised on the 2015 campaign trail — to raise pay for teachers, minimum-wage earners and women.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is voicing confidence that during their legislative session this spring, state lawmakers will agree to bump salaries for public educators.
“The ability to attract and retain the highest quality teachers is critically important,” he told reporters at a year-end news conference Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion. “You can’t do that if you’re not paying a competitive salary.”
Edwards estimates that Louisiana’s teachers make roughly $2,200 a year less than those in other Southern states.
The governor wants to include $1,000-a-year raises in his upcoming executive budget. State House Republican leaders claim that revenue estimates remain too fluid for the governor to include raises in his budget, instead suggesting that the idea come later in the Legislature’s supplemental spending plan.
Despite the disagreement, Edwards stands firm that the 2019 Legislative Session will produce teacher pay raises.
“I’m optimistic because if you talk to Republicans and Democrats in the House and in the Senate, there is near-universal support for the pay raise,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Edwards and the Republican-led Legislature remain more divided over another item: raising the minimum wage. The Democratic governor has tried for three straight years to ditch the federal $7.25 rate for a higher amount, only to have met GOP dissent. But he will try again in the new year, this time eyeing an $8.50 hourly rate.
“We’re going to keep fighting for it, but I’m very disappointed to be standing here at the end of my third year and tell you we haven’t been able to get that done.” Edwards said. “I think it’s a travesty.”
Slimming down Louisiana’s gender pay gap also sits on the governor’s 2019 wish list. The state’s women are paid 69 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It ought to offend everybody, not just women, that we have the biggest pay gap in the country based on gender,” the governor said.
Edwards enters the election year with challenges from Baton Rouge businessman and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto — two Republicans looking to unseat the Deep South’s only Democratic governor.