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How Much Is The Special Session Costing Texans?

Just hours after the House and the Senate adjourned on Sine Die, Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session, saying it would be the first of several to come this year.

As Governor Abbott shows his determination to call multiple special sessions to advance his legislative priorities, it raises concerns about the financial impact on Texas taxpayers. With increased activity at the Capitol, we question the potential costs associated with these additional sessions.

Let’s do the math.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission, every legislator receives per diem per day that they’re in session, which is $221. They are entitled to a per diem for each day, regardless of how many days were actually attended.

So even if lawmakers don’t meet on Saturday or Sunday, they get paid their per diem since it is supposed to be for their lodging.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, told the Texas Standard that one of the main costs of a special session is the daily stipend for lawmakers.

“Every individual legislator receives per diem per day that they’re in session, which is $221,” Jones said. “They don’t get any more in salary because each senator and representative get $7,200 a year and that doesn’t increase for additional days of the session.”

By state law, special sessions can last a maximum of 30 days but have no minimum. For a 30-day special session, the cost is between $2 to $3 million, taking into account every legislator’s per diem, and costs of staffing and operations, according to Jones.

However, there is no guarantee that lawmakers spend the full 30 days in a special session. For example, House Speaker Dade Phelan quickly passed a border security bill and the House version of property tax relief and adjourned the House, all on the same day.

If the House was only in special session for one day, that’s $221 per diem per legislator for a body of 150 members, totaling $33,150, plus a little bit in terms of overall overhead expenses. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick intends to keep the Senate in session while the Texas House is away.

The House Business Office hasn’t been able to be reached to determine if State Representatives are still getting paid their per diem even if the house adjourned.

Since the publication of this article, nine days have passed since the start of the special session, if there are 31 Senators plus Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that totals up to $63,648, with 22 days left in the special session.

When you add up the House and the Senate, taxpayers have spent $96,798 (and counting) on a special session that has yet to pass any bills. Keeping in mind that number could be bigger, since this is an approximate value that does not include overhead expenses.

With a historic budget surplus of $32.7 billion, this might not seem like a lot, but if Abbott’s intentions are to call multiple special sessions to further his political agenda, the pennies will continue to add up to a pretty sum.

Apart from taxpayer costs, more time at the statehouse can negatively impact some lawmakers, Jones told Texas Standard. 

“It also takes a toll on the legislators because for those that don’t work as de facto lobbyists in Austin and actually have jobs in their cities and counties – say, as physicians or lawyers that don’t focus on lobbying – they’re also losing income for every day that they’re in Austin,” he said. “So this is going to take a personal cost and a professional cost on a large number of the representatives and senators who aren’t independently wealthy or who don’t make their money through de facto lobbying.”

*this is a developing story.

Written by RA News staff.


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