Special session costs likely under $425,000

The OlympianApril 18, 2011 

Lawmakers are gearing up for a special session later this spring. Costs are still hard to pin down, but Bernard Dean, chief deputy clerk in the House, issued an estimate today.

He said in an e-mail:

While special session expenses are dependent upon a number of variables, it is likely that combined total House and Senate costs would range from $8,200 to $14,200 per day. These figures include member and staff per diem as well as "minimal" session staffing (temporary security personnel). It does not include costs that are normally associated with the "regular" session (e.g., pages, interns, hotline, caucus and committee session staff, etc.). Moreover, the daily cost of a special session is dependent upon the nature and duration of the special session itself. For instance, many members may decline per diem payments for days that do not include floor action or committee activity; particularly if they remain in district while budget negotiators work on a conference budget (e.g., rolling recess).

In other words, a full 30-day session at $14,200 a day would total somewhere around $426,000 – and if lawmakers of both parties posture for tight-fisted voters back home, it's like many will forego their $90 per day expense allowance.

Whatever the cost, a start date for the special session was still no clearer today than Friday when Gov. Chris Gregoire quit the charade and said lawmakers won't be done by Sunday's scheduled end of the 105-day regular session.

House and Senate leaders met briefly in Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown's office early this afternoon to talk about what they think they can get done this week. The expectation is they might work through Friday, passing bills likely needed for the budget.

Brown told reporters Friday the budget process was slowed down to some degree by a decision to work cooperatively with Republicans to write a bipartisan budget in the Senate. Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt also blamed Democrats for not starting sooner on taking budget cuts this year.

But extra sessions are fairly common in years when revenues are lower than expected, like this year and a $4.5 billion shortfall that includes a more than $2 billion drop in federal aid.

Top House budget writer Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said both chambers "have a lot of work to do" to negotiate differences on the budget – even assuming the Senate passed its version of the bill off the floor today. The leadership meeting included Democratic budget writers of both chambers and House Speaker Frank Chopp.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said there are two issues – reconciling numerical differences in the House and Senate budgets and reconciling policy differences. Among those policy differences is a Senate proposal to cut teacher pay by 3 percent and to impose additional furloughs or unpaid layoff days on higher-earning state employees.

Sullivan did not specify which bills were likely to move this week. But he said leaders were trying to see how much of the budget-writing job, such as passing supporting legislation, can be done before adjourning this week. Once lawmakers are gone, he said the budget negotiations can continue.

Gregoire has expressed an unwillingness to call lawmakers back into session if they don't have agreements in the offing. Even though session costs might not be high, Gregoire said she does not want the public to see rank-and-file lawmakers idling at the Capitol while negotiations are done by a few.

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