Special session of the Alaska Legislatuare could cost between $500K and $1M

 Snow falls in front of the Alaska Capitol in Downtown Juneau in March 2017
Snow falls in front of the Alaska Capitol in Downtown Juneau in March 2017 (KTUU)
Published: May. 17, 2019 at 12:44 PM AKDT
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It’s day two of a 30-day special session that could cost the state between $500,000 and a $1 million in personal services, travel expenses and per diem payments.

That figure roughly compares with

Lawmakers could finish their work before the 30-day deadline, lowering the costs incurred by the state.

Jessica Geary, the executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, sent Channel 2 a breakdown of the costs for extending the legislative session for a full month.

Without per diem payments, Geary estimates a full 30-day special session in Juneau would cost just over $500,000. Personal services are estimated to cost $14,000 per day. Ten partisan staff would also be able to collect $322 per day in per diem payments, totaling $96,000 after a month.

Lawmakers though aren’t able to collect per diems until they pass a budget, after House Bill 44 was signed into law in 2018. At that point, legislators who live 50 miles or more away from the Capitol would be able to collect $302 per day to pay for food expenses and daily housing.

Out of 60 legislators, 57 are eligible to receive a per diem in Juneau. If all of them started to collect the payment, just over $17,000 a day would be added to the state’s bill. Had the budget passed before the start of the special session, the 30 days of per diem payments would have cost the state another $517,000.

In past special sessions, not all lawmakers have collected per diem payments.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy floated the idea on the last day of the regular session of holding the special session in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Geary said it was difficult to make an “apples to apples” comparison on costs as factors to consider would be the exact timing of when the special session was called and its exact location.

The cost though of holding a special session in Wasilla could exceed $1 million due to the added expense of renting a space for legislators to meet and moving staff needed to make a session operate.

With the 50-mile rule, 27 legislators would be ineligible to collect per diem payments.

The governor chose to call the special session in Juneau but did not explain if cost was a factor in his decision. A statement from his office released Wednesday warned that a move could be possible in the future.

“If the Legislature again fails to adopt a full PFD, operating and capital budgets, fund education and pass an effective crime package, it will be evident we will need to move to a new venue,” the statement read.