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Governor's budget proposal includes $500M for new Mississippi River bridge, pay raises for teachers

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BATON ROUGE - Governor John Bel Edwards' proposed budget for 2022 includes $1.1 billion in funding toward infrastructure, with roughly half of that going toward a new bridge over the Mississippi River.

The governor announced Monday that $500 million of the proposal would be dedicated to building the new bridge in Baton Rouge. The governor's office said that money would come from the current-year budget's excess. 

Edwards calls a new bridge the 'single-most important transportation infrastructure priority' in the state.

"It's also the most expensive, and you've got to put money up towards it while you have it," Edwards said. "Otherwise, you're never going to complete it."

State lawmakers have already narrowed down the bridge's location to 20 prospects, though funding still needs to be allocated to pay for the rest of the project. 

"The longer we wait, the further we go, the more it costs," West Baton Rouge Parish President "Pee Wee" Berthelot said. "We're at the point now where this money is real. It's a tangible effort by the government."

Dr. Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state's Department of Transportation and Development, says the exact price tag of the project remains unclear.

"A project that's gonna be $800-plus million, close to $900 million today, in four years or five years when we let it, you're talking about 2.5% a year for construction inflation," Wilson said. "That doesn't take into consideration the spike that we see related to supply chain or the volume of revenue that's pumped into the economy that's gonna cause projects and prices to increase."

Wilson says setting these dollars aside for the project will go a long way with both the private sector, where a partnership is wanted, and the federal government, by showing the priority the state is placing on a new bridge. The state, while exploring additional avenues for funding, both one-time and recurring, is banking on that commitment to bring in additional dollars.

"It will demonstrate to the federal government that we're serious about this and we now have state cash that can be used to incentivize a discretionary grant, a sizable grant," Wilson said.

Along with the infrastructure funding, another major point of the governor's budget proposal is a $1,500 pay raise for teachers.

"Today, I’m announcing our most significant new investments yet – focusing on education at all levels, including at least a $1500 pay raise for teachers, funded with recurring state general fund,” Gov. Edwards said. “This budget proposal also includes significant new investments in infrastructure, using non-recurring revenue from surplus, excess, and American Rescue Plan dollars.”

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne will formally present the budget to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Tuesday.

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