Politics & Government

Legislature’s special session costs top $440,000

Empty pizza boxes sit on a cart in the wings of the House chamber during a recess for caucus meetings June 30 as a session of the Washington Legislature stretches into the night at the Capitol in Olympia. Lawmakers were hoping to get a two-year state operating budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee before midnight in order to avoid a partial government shutdown that would have started Wednesday. The Legislature has now totalled the perdiem and travel costs of its extra sessions, which are running over $440,000.
Empty pizza boxes sit on a cart in the wings of the House chamber during a recess for caucus meetings June 30 as a session of the Washington Legislature stretches into the night at the Capitol in Olympia. Lawmakers were hoping to get a two-year state operating budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee before midnight in order to avoid a partial government shutdown that would have started Wednesday. The Legislature has now totalled the perdiem and travel costs of its extra sessions, which are running over $440,000. AP

Nearly half a year of lawmakers hanging around Olympia doesn’t come free.

Washington state lawmakers racked up more than $440,000 in daily expenses and travel costs during their three overtime sessions this year, according to a review of legislative records — and those records are still incomplete.

The total cost of lawmakers’ special sessions could top $500,000 after the state House finishes compiling reports from the Legislature’s most recent stint in Olympia.

The Legislature adjourned Friday, partway through a third special session, after finalizing details of a new 16-year transportation package and a new state operating budget. Gov. Jay Inslee had called lawmakers back after they were unable to agree on a budget during their regular session that ended in April.

This year’s special session costs were driven up by the sheer length of time lawmakers spent in session — 176 days, the most the Legislature has ever met during a single year — as well as a recent increase in their daily expense stipend, or per diem rate.

Since 2014, lawmakers have been allowed $120 per day to help pay for expenses such as food and lodging while the Legislature is in session, while previously they could claim only $90 per day.

For those reasons, lawmakers’ per diem and expense costs in 2015 were higher than they were two years ago, when legislators required two 30-day special sessions to complete their work.

Yet this year’s special session costs don’t look as if they will break records, even if the Legislature’s lengthy stay in Olympia did.

Lawmakers’ travel expenses and per diem costs were higher in 2001, according to records from the House and Senate. That year, lawmakers also stayed in Olympia for three overtime sessions, and claimed a combined $580,000 in per diem payments and travel reimbursements.

Administrators in the House and the Senate said they will be able to absorb the cost of this year’s special sessions within their existing budgets.

Bernard Dean, deputy chief clerk of the state House, said the House can cover lawmakers’ special-session costs using savings from unfilled staff vacancies during the 2015 fiscal year, as well as from lawmakers not maxing out their business and communication expense accounts.

Paul Campos, the deputy secretary of the Senate, said his chamber similarly expects to offset the extra session costs with savings banked during the last fiscal year.

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