KSLA News 12 Investigates: LA lawmakers' special sessions cost state taxpayers

KSLA News 12 Investigates: LA lawmakers' special sessions cost state taxpayers

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Louisiana lawmakers will begin another special session Monday to try to fill a roughly $600 million budget hole for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

It's the second special session the Legislature's held this year in addition to its regular session. In fact, the second special session is set to begin a mere 30 minutes after the regular session ends.

That first special session, which ran Feb. 14 through March 9, was meant to bridge a budget gap of more than $900 million for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

But lawmakers didn't solve it, and it heaped a big cost on the state.

Through public records requests, KSLA News 12 obtained documents showing that session's costs from both chambers. Those documents reveal the Senate spent more than $652,000 and the House of Representatives spent more than $657,000 over the 25 days they met.

Breaking that down, each day the Senate was in session cost taxpayers $25,000. Each day of business in the House cost chamber cost $26,280.

KSLA News 12's investigation found the biggest components of these costs to be lawmakers' earnings.

According to current policy in both the House and Senate, each lawmaker is paid a per diem, or allowance per day, of $157.

That means 107 representatives and 39 senators earned nearly $4,000 each by session's end, not counting their overtime, insurance, mileage and wages paid to staffers and security personnel.

The Senate spent more than $169,000 on senators' per diem pay and mileage.

The House paid more than $500,000 for its members' per diem pay and more than $97,000 in extra hours and overtime to state representatives.

By session's end, both legislative bodies cost the state a combined bill of more than $1.3 million.

Still, Gov. John Bel Edwards noted, lawmakers failed to solve the previous fiscal year's budget crisis.

"We remain short for both this year in the amount of $30 million and next year for $800 million," he announced March 9, the end of the first special session.

KSLA News 12's investigation found one area with a big difference in spending - printing.

The Senate reported spending more than $3,500 on printing over the entire session.

Emprint Moran Printing invoices obtained by KSLA News 12 show the House consistently spent thousands of dollars for printing on multiple days. It paid daily for printing 100 daily journals and, on certain days, paid for hundreds of copies of original bills, engrossed bills and then re-engrossed bills.

On March 3 alone, the House spent more than $8,600 on printing.

In total, more than $21,000 was spent by the House on printing during the special session.

District 3 state Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, told KSLA News 12 she saw a second special session coming.

When asked by KSLA News 12 what issues warrant taxpayers footing the bill for another special session, she replied:

"You know, I've got to laugh at that one because, I promise you, if we knew all the answers, we wouldn't even be going into another special session.

"We know that we're going to be talking about corporate taxes, and there are other issues that we will be pushing."

Whatever the special sessions cost, Norton said, Louisianians would face much worse without them.

"I really don't think that there is enough information that's given out to the public so they'll know exactly what we're faced with, what they will be looking at if we do not come in to validate those things that we need to do.

"If I had to make a choice, it would be to make a choice to allow the state of Louisiana to continue to exist."

KSLA News 12 will be in Baton Rouge to bring you updates Monday when lawmakers begin the second special session to try to close next fiscal year's budget gap of $600 million or so.

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