BLOG : Alaska, Maryland, Kentucky
Special Sessions Especially Costly to Taxpayers
Across the nation, states are increasing the regularity of special legislative sessions, so that they are not especially special anymore. For a legislature, a special session is a period outside of the normal legislative session, often used to complete unfinished tasks for the year. For many states, frequent stalemate over the state budget is justification for a special session.
The irony? While state lawmakers grapple with spending issues in special sessions, the state is hemorrhaging money paying for lawmakers' overtime.
In just one week in April, three states-Maryland, Alaska, and Kentucky-called for special sessions that could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars every day. When the Maryland General Assembly is called back for a special session, it will cost taxpayers more than $20,000 per day, according to the Department of Legislative Services (DLS), while other elected officials estimate the cost between $30,000-$100,000 per day. Comparatively, the Fall 2007 special assembly cost the state a total of $475,000 according to the Maryland DLS.
In Juneau, Alaska, the Legislative Affairs Agency estimates the cost of the Alaska special session up to $30,000 per day. Governor Sean Parnell called lawmakers back to Juneau last week to address the state's oil structure, including gas line legislation and oil taxes, and a sex-trafficking bill. Although on the issues were on the table long before the end of the normal legislative session, lawmakers could not compromise on the final bill. After a slow start on Wednesday, the special session should face a fuller schedule in the coming weeks.
After failing to finish their work in the regular legislative session, the Governor of Kentucky called lawmakers back to pass a transportation budget and prescription drug bill, costing taxpayers in excess of $60,000 per day. Of that, $26,580 goes towards General Assembly salaries; $18,671 is for expenses, including meals, mileage, and lodging, and the rest towards the legislative staff. Across the nation, many taxpayers believe that lawmakers should not collect additional salary during special sessions, and some lawmakers agree, although nothing has been done to end the practice.
Special session pay is an especially frustrating concept for many taxpayers. In nearly every state, lawmakers are paid during special sessions, often including expenses. The special sessions also require that the state pay legislative staff overtime, as well as the costs of operating the legislative buildings.
At least some lawmakers do not see the additional pay for failure to complete their tasks in the time allotted as pure personal gain. In Kentucky, at least one lawmaker donates his salary to a charity in his district. Additionally, some legislators return pay received in special sessions, but many are content receiving the bonus paid to them by taxpayers for failing to compromise and to make decisions within the normal legislative session.
Whether lawmakers or voters will demand an end to special sessions, particularly special session compensation, is unknown, but in the meantime, it is costing taxpayers in states across the nation.