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Missouri special session costs are $139,000 and growing

Missouri special session costs are $139,000 and growing

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Missouri special session

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens addresses a Statehouse crowd in Jefferson City on June 14 after calling lawmakers back to special session. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Back in January, Gov. Eric Greitens complained that some Missouri lawmakers were considering giving themselves a pay raise when state resources were thin.

Although the pay raise idea fizzled amid his fierce opposition, Greitens’ call for the Legislature to spend time in the capital city for two special sessions this summer may erase any financial benefit he sought by blocking the maneuver.

According to tabulations from the House and the Senate, the two special sessions have thus far cost taxpayers $139,199.

The cost of the proposed 2.5 percent pay raise for legislators would have been $179,906, based on a fiscal review of the failed plan.

With the second special session on abortion-related issues still unresolved, there is a chance the total cost of the special session could exceed what Greitens had sought to stop six months ago.

Missouri lawmakers earn nearly $36,000 a year in salary, plus a daily expense check of $114 for food and lodging while in session from January to mid-May. They also receive a weekly mileage check during the session. They typically don’t get the daily check or the mileage reimbursement in summer and fall, because the Missouri Constitution calls for a part-time Legislature.

But when members are called to Jefferson City for a special session, the expense checks start. In addition, the House and the Senate bring back employees, such as doormen and clerks, who would otherwise not be working in the summer.

Legislative leaders have been cautious about calling the full Legislature into session this summer for exactly this reason. Instead, they have put the second special session on hold while members tend to other business in their districts. For now, the Senate is not expected to be back in town until July 25.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said one senator — Republican Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg — couldn’t make it back until then because he’s getting married. Other members plan to attend national conferences, including one next week sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In the Senate, the first special session to address bringing a steel mill and an aluminum smelter to southeast Missouri cost taxpayers $18,821. More than half of that was for the $114 daily expense checks for lawmakers.

Through July 10, the Senate has spent $19,870 on the second special session, which Greitens called to address changes to state laws regarding abortion.

In the House, which has 163 members, the cost of the first special session was $47,289 with over $30,000 going to food and lodging costs. The second session has cost $53,139, so far.

Democrats told the Post-Dispatch that the cost of the special sessions rests with the first-year governor.

“The governor is forcing Missouri taxpayers to shoulder the burden for his lack of leadership,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton.

Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden said Tuesday that the governor doesn’t believe he’s wasting money.

“The governor is a budget hawk,” Briden told the Post-Dispatch. “We believe the top priority is women’s health. This is a really important thing to get done.”

Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said the issue is less about the cost of the special sessions and more about value.

“There is a lot of value in a part-time, citizen legislature that spends most of the year back home, hearing directly from Missourians. There is less value in long-running special sessions that take people away from their jobs, their families and their communities. Clearly, if this was solely about costs, those Capitol chambers would have remained empty this summer,” Walsh said.

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