The Alaska Legislature launched into a special session Thursday, giving lawmakers 30 more days to get their jobs done.
The special session could end up costing just over a million dollars, according to estimates from the Legislative Affairs Agency. The number is unlikely to rise quite that high, though, because the Legislature has yet to pass a budget — meaning that lawmakers’ per diems are cut off.
If the Legislature goes the full 30-day session without passing a budget (and without legislators collecting their $302 per day per diem), the special session would cost $532,000, according to LAA’s estimate.
LAA Executive Director Jessica Geary explained in a phone interview Thursday that special sessions usually cost about $30,000 per day. Contingency funds for a special session are already in the Legislature’s budget, Geary said, and there’s about $700,000 set aside.
Geary said that funding a special session will not take away from other state services.
If the Legislature needs more than that, it will come out of the Legislature’s operating budget, Geary said. If a second special session pushes past June 30 (the end of the fiscal year), then the Legislature would have to pull from the 2020 legislative operating budget.
“I’m hopeful, as I’m sure everyone else is, that they’ll be able to get a budget passed fairly quickly,” Geary said.
Legislators’ per diem is currently cut off due to House Bill 44, which was signed into law last summer. The law states that legislators’ per diem is cut off if they fail to pass a budget on time. The bill also states that lawmakers can get their per diems back as soon as they pass a budget.
When he declared the special session Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said there was “a lot of interest” in having the special session in the Mat-Su Valley. Geary said having a special session is cheaper in Juneau, and LAA’s numbers back that up.
LAA compared a session in Wasilla with a session in Juneau. Running the numbers without per diem, a special session in Wasilla would cost nearly $460,000 more than a session in Juneau. Running the numbers with per diem, a special session in Wasilla would cost just over $130,000 more than a special session in the capital city.
There are other considerations with that as well, according to the LAA’s spreadsheet evaluating the two location options. The Menard Center conference room in Wasilla could fit one chamber at a time holding floor sessions, according to the spreadsheet. Advanced planning would also be required to make sure they could get the space, and it’s hard to make a request when it’s not certain how long the special session will last.
Hotel space is also a concern in Wasilla, according to LAA. In Juneau, on the other hand, the Baranof Hotel has offered 100 rooms to legislators, according to LAA.
Dunleavy called this special session with the intent of having the Legislature make decisions on crime legislation, the operating budget, the capital budget and the future of education funding. According to state statute, the Legislature has to focus on the issues the governor defines and nothing else.
Three of the past four special sessions (all of which were in 2017) have gone the full 30 days, according to LAA.
• The state’s first special session was called in 1964 to work out disaster relief for the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964.
• Since statehood, the Alaska Legislature has now spent 466 days (including Thursday) in special session.
• Gov. Bill Walker called seven special sessions, according to LAA. The average cost of those sessions was $553,419.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.