Session failed to solve state deficit; some lawmakers to keep their pay just the same

Session failed to solve state deficit; some lawmakers to keep their pay just the same
The Louisiana Legislature ended its special session March 5 with no resolution to the state deficit. (Source: KSLA News 12)

(KSLA) - Louisiana lawmakers agreed on only two things during the special session that ended Monday.

And neither addresses the state's budget deficit.

That was lawmakers' primary task during the two weeks they were in the state Capitol.

And even though the session failed to reach its goal, some legislators say they plan to keep their pay of $164 a day.

KSLA's investigative team has contacted every state representative and some state senators from Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine and Webster parishes to ask whether they intend to keep the per diem for the special session.

Most have yet to respond. (This story will be updated with their comments if and when they do.)

District 9 Rep. "Dodie" Horton's legislative assistant says the Haughton Republican will keep her per diem.

"She attended every committee meeting and never missed a day of the special session," Amanda Nottingham said.

"She represented District 9 by fighting for budget and Medicaid reform while protecting the middle class from income tax increases," Nottingham continued. "Rep. Horton did the job she was called to do.

"But if the governor, who has the sole authority to call the Legislature into special session, feels it was a bad investment, then maybe his administration should pay the cost."

Both District 7 Rep. Lawrence A. "Larry" Bagley, R-Logansport, District 8 Rep. Raymond J. Crews, R-Bossier City, say they too will accept their salaries.

"I went to Baton Rouge during the special session for three reasons," Bagley explained. "Initiate reforms, make sensible cuts and raise minimal amounts of revenue through sales tax.

"Progress was made, but it was members of the governor's own party that killed those reforms," he continued.

"So I am not going to apologize for the that work. Driving four hours each way to Baton Rouge, I am sure my constituents will understand as I went and remained there to represent their interests."

While it's not a direct comment on the per diem, Crews did release the following statement about the special session:

"The special session, while unnecessary, was nearly a $1 million lesson to the governor that higher taxes are untenable. Until taxpayers have some confidence in the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of state government, nothing else should be expected. Thankfully, the session did prevent the addition of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional taxes."

The final cost of special session that started Feb. 19 and ended Monday, two days early, has yet to be tallied.

Nothing has been paid; and it could take up to two weeks to process everything, said a spokesman for the House of Representatives.

Some have estimated that the special session cost Louisiana taxpayers $50,000 to $60,000 a day.

The bulk of that expense is the $164 a day paid to each lawmaker.

And they get paid regardless of whether they meet.

With that per diem, the salary paid to each legislator for 15 days is $2,460.

Add to that the cost of benefits. (There's no retirement cost because legislators can't join the state retirement system.) 
Legislators also get 54.5 cents a mile for one round trip a week between their homes and the Capitol.

A round trip between Shreveport and the steps of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge is about 500 miles, meaning a mileage reimbursement of about $270.

In addition to legislators' pay, the special session's expenses include printing costs and supplies.

Those supplies include coffee and soft drinks, an expense that increases immensely during legislative sessions, the House spokesman said.

And state employees get paid overtime. It's straight time, not time-and-a-half.

If an employee chooses compensatory time instead of pay, it's time-and-a-half leave time.

The state Senate and House of Representatives also hire temporary employees including bill proofreaders, extra sergeants in arms and clerical workers when lawmakers are in session.

All this goes into figuring the final cost of a legislative session.

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