- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The two special legislative sessions spawned as lawmakers try to come to terms on a fully funded budget have cost the state at least $430,000, with costs still being tallied.

Jessica Geary, finance manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency, who provided the figures, said past special sessions have typically cost around $30,000 a day. But she said this year has been different, with the first special session marked by an 11-day recess in floor sessions that sent lawmakers scattering from Juneau. With legislators not formally meeting every day, many weren’t claiming an allowance, known as per diem, unless they were on a committee that was meeting, she said.

It’s also unprecedented to have a special session in Anchorage that lasts longer than a day, she said.

Failure to reach a budget agreement sent lawmakers into overtime. The first special session, called by Gov. Bill Walker, ran from April 28 to May 21, when lawmakers ended it and called one of their own, beginning that same day, in Anchorage. Special sessions last up to 30 days. The House and Senate held brief floor sessions to satisfy meeting requirements Friday before adjourning until Monday; with no budget to vote on, they had no business to take up.

A conference committee working on the budget isn’t scheduled to meet again until Monday.

The Walker administration is holding an event in Fairbanks this weekend that some lawmakers are expected to attend, geared toward starting the discussion on what Alaskans want from their government and how to pay for it.

During the regular legislative session, lawmakers receive a daily allowance when the Legislature is in session, regardless of whether they are in Juneau, Geary has said. During special sessions, if lawmakers are not meeting regularly, those seeking per diem would have to claim it, Geary said.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said in a phone interview that legislative leaders are trying to limit costs. Flying in for a technical floor session, for which attendance is not mandatory, is “not something that we condone,” he said.

“If you’re in town and you’re doing work, then you can claim per diem. We’ve pretty much tried to leave it up to folks. If they’re at home, and they’re not here, don’t have expenses, then we’re hoping that they don’t put in for per diem, he said. “But if I’m here and I’ve got a hotel room that I’m paying, you know, 200 bucks a night for, I’m going to be claiming per diem.”

Chenault has been involved in the ongoing budget talks. Hotel prices go up this time of year for the tourism season.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said the recess during the first special session came as his rental in Juneau was up and since he wouldn’t have ongoing extra expenses in Juneau, he wasn’t going to take per diem. Seaton planned to attend Walker’s fiscal gathering in Fairbanks on official business, as part of efforts to look for long-term sustainable solutions for the state. He said he would get per diem for his time there but did not plan to take it for the rest of the special session unless in Anchorage on business.

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