Ill-fated special session could cost La. taxpayers nearly $1 million

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Louisiana lawmakers were tasked to strike compromise on revenue matters. But by the time their special legislative session ended Monday, they could only agree that taxpayer dollars were wasted.

State legislators spent 15 days in session, ultimately rejecting all revenue measures that would have helped close a $994 million budget gap.

“A colossal waste of time and taxpayer money,” Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) posted on Facebook once the Legislature adjourned the session, which began Feb. 19.

“Nearly 1 MILLION in taxpayer dollars down the drain, with very little accomplished,” tweeted Rep. Julie Stokes (R-Kenner) this week.

While state accountants will take weeks to crunch the session’s specific expense, officials at the State Capitol estimate it could cost Louisiana up to $900,000, at a rate of $60,000 a day.

“I’m not sure taxpayers have paid this much money for so little in return for a very long time,” said Jeremy Alford, a political analyst with LaPolitics.com. “The fact that lawmakers failed to pass key bills and failed to address the shortfall looming over them is pretty clear evidence that it was not worth the cost.”

A $164 per diem to legislators marks the largest expense. Members of the House and Senate will be paid for all 15 days of the session, including four on which they did not meet at large. Over the course of 11 days, House members spent 29 hours debating revenue measures on the chamber floor. (Other negotiations took place behind closed doors.)

The state will also compensate legislators for travel. Each lawmaker gets reimbursed 54.5 cents per mile for a weekly round trip to the Capitol from their home districts.

Add to that the cost of supplies and daily journals, plus printing the bills and amendments that lawmakers ultimately never passed during the special session.

“The result of not trying at all would have been a heck of a lot cheaper,” Alford said. “But then you would have been guaranteed no results at all. Though, at the end of the day, that’s what we got anyway.”

Despite many legislators calling the session a waste of taxpayer dollars, no state lawmakers have refused to accept their per diem as of Wednesday, according to House and Senate press officials.

Still, the possibility remains that this session, the fifth since Gov. John Bel Edwards took office, may not cost as much as other ones. Many state employees — usually paid overtime for special sessions — would have received that overtime anyway, as they ready bills for the regular session that starts Monday. The Legislature also cut costs this special session by hiring fewer security and clerical aides than usual.

State law bars legislators from debating taxes in this year’s regular session. That means lawmakers would need another extraordinary session to replace revenue that expires July 1.

Elected officials are considering a way to slice the price-tag, in the event of a late-spring special session. Edwards has said legislators may end the regular session a few weeks earlier than the scheduled June 4 date. Such consolidation would buy them more time to examine revenue measures before the next fiscal year begins.

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