KSLA News 12 Investigates: Budget special sessions cost taxpayers $1.9M

KSLA News 12 Investigates: Budget special sessions cost taxpayers $1.9M
State lawmakers wrapped up their second special legislative session of the year in Baton Rouge, LA on Thursday, June 23. (Source: Nick Lawton, KSLA)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The Louisiana Legislature tried to fill a more than $900 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended on July 1, and  it all came at a hefty cost to the taxpayers.

But they needed two special sessions to do it: One from Valentine's Day until March 9 and then another from June 6 to June 23.

According to public documents obtained by KSLA, those 42 days added up to a cost of more than $1.9 million. The House of Representatives spent $665,098.71 during the first special session and $436,910.73 during the second session.

The Senate spent $651,851.73 in the first special session and $196,082.60 during the second session, totaling more than $847,000.

KSLA discovered the biggest chunks of these costs went to lawmakers to pay for their mileage and per diem pay, a daily allowance of $157.

The House spent $825,443.47 for mileage and per diem pay for their 107 representatives over both sessions.

The Senate spent $280,929.56 for mileage and per diem pay for their 36 senators over both sessions.

Lawmakers did spend less during the second special session because it was 8 days less, but not every expense was lessened. The House still spent more than $10,000 on "refreshments" for both sessions.

Stonewall Republican Representative Larry Bagley says in light of that cost, the second special session should have been reconsidered.

"Possibly taken a couple weeks off. I think that money could have been saved by waiting," Bagley said. "If we were going to do that, maybe we wouldn't have had a problem if we brought enough money to cover the expenses anyway, which some people thought we would."

But Bagley said the extra revenue the second session brought in saved certain programs, like the TOPS scholarships.

"TOPS would have most likely been shut down," he said. "We talked about closing four hospitals. In the end, that didn't happen. There were some terrible things that would have happened."

But by the second special session's end, Governor John Bel Edwards said Louisiana still faced a $300 million shortfall.

When KSLA News 12 asked Edwards about taxpayer cost at the beginning of the second special session, he said the need to solve the budget deficit outweighed that.

"The cost, while not insignificant, certainly isn't so high that we should not call ourselves into session to fix the problem," Gov. Edwards said.

Bagley told KSLA more still needs to be done by lawmakers to restructure the state's tax system.

"I'd like to see us do something where taxes are more equitable and certainly not to hurt anybody," he said.

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