Maryland General Assembly special session would be costly for taxpayers

April 14, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

If, as expected, the Maryland General Assembly is called back for a special session, it could cost taxpayers more than $20,000 a day.

That’s based on a comparison to a fall 2007 special session held to address the state’s budget deficit.

That session cost about $475,000, or $22,600 a day, according to Jim Goff, a fiscal operations officer for the state Department of Legislative Services.

Goff wrote in an email on Thursday that the cost of the October 2011 special session on congressional redistricting hasn’t been determined yet.

Elected officials have been floating higher estimates, ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 a day.

The daily costs include lodging, meals and mileage for lawmakers, as well as staff time, postage and printing supplies, Goff said.

The current reimbursement rates for legislators are: 55.5 cents per mile for travel, $101 a night for lodging and $42 a day for meals.

Generally, lawmakers who live farther than a short drive from Annapolis claim the lodging reimbursement.

According to Goff, 169 of the 188 state lawmakers claimed a lodging reimbursement for the 2011 regular session — anywhere from one day to the full 90 days.

Some itemize the cost of their meals, while others stick with the $42 per diem reimbursement rate.

Whatever the cost, it’s a “slap in the face” to taxpayers to ask them to pay for a special session, said Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington.

Hough, like other Republicans in the Washington County delegation, said the General Assembly should have been able to complete its work in the allotted 90 days.

In fact, “we could have had a 60-day session and been done,” Del. Andrew A. Serafini said.

Asked during an impromptu news conference on Tuesday how much a special session would cost, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said: “Very little .... Legislators should work for free, quite frankly. They’re getting paid no matter what they do. They should be happy to come here.”

Staff costs would be minimal if a special session lasts only one or two days, he said, noting that a 1992 special session took three days.

For the 2007 special session on budget and tax issues, either the House, the Senate or both were in session on 17 different days, according to state records.

The 2011 special session on redistricting lasted four days.

For a 2006 special session on electricity rates and deregulation, the legislature convened two days in a row, then came back for a third day.

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