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Alaska Legislature

Special sessions cost more than $1.2 million so far this year

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: August 26, 2019
  • Published August 26, 2019

Alaska’s two legislative sessions this year have cost the state of Alaska a combined $1.2 million, and the price tag is expected to rise higher if Gov. Mike Dunleavy continues with plans to call a third session in an attempt to force the Alaska Legislature to increase the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.

The estimates released Monday by the nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Agency indicate the first special session cost $697,562 and the second cost $559,467, though the second figure is preliminary. None of that cost is from the unsuccessful attempt by some Republican lawmakers and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to convene the second special session in Wasilla, said Jessica Geary, executive director of the agency.

“Any members that went to Wasilla had to pay for that from their office accounts or from themselves,” she said.

Geary said the price of the second special session will likely rise about $50,000 once final costs from August are tallied at the end of the week.

The total amount of individual lawmakers’ per-diem expense payments will be available in the next week or two, Geary said. The agency has already released figures for the amount of retroactive per diem payments claimed by lawmakers through June 10.

According to a 2018 report by the nonpartisan Legislative Research Service, this year’s first special session would be the most expensive since a 27-day session called by Gov. Sean Parnell to resolve the state’s operating budget. That was the first and only special session to cost more than $1 million.

Three special sessions called by former Gov. Sarah Palin also cost more than $800,000 apiece, and one cost more than $940,000 at the time.

Geary said costs fell during the second special session because fewer staff were on duty.

This year, Dunleavy called lawmakers into a 29-day special session immediately after the May 15 end of the 121-day regular session in order to finish work on the state’s operating budget.

The 30-day second special session, which began in July, convened in disarray — some lawmakers favored Dunleavy’s chosen Wasilla location, and met there, but most wanted to hold session in Juneau and so convened the session in the capital city. They also disagreed on topics; those in Juneau favored action first on the state’s capital budget, while the governor and those in Wasilla urged action on the Permanent Fund dividend first.

The impasse ended when the governor changed his formal special session call to Juneau and added the capital budget to the agenda.

“The second special was the most unusual special session that we’ve ever had. The first special session was pretty standard,” Geary said.

The governor has said he will call a third special session before the end of the year. His goal is to encourage the Legislature to increase the Permanent Fund dividend to about $2,950, the amount called for under the traditional formula in state law. A majority of lawmakers favor a $1,600 dividend instead.

No location or date has yet been announced by the governor’s office, but state law requires the governor to provide 30 days’ advance notice before such a session.