As they try to figure out how to save the state money, Maryland's legislators are costing money -- but at a budget rate, legislative aides say.
The special legislative session costs $6,000 to $7,500 -- depending on who's doing the estimating -- for each day the lawmakers meet in Annapolis.
That comes to between $36,000 and $45,000 since the House and Senate convened Sept. 25 for the special session. The cost keeps growing -- but it's far from the estimates of hundreds of thousands of dollars being tossed around on some radio programs, legislative aides say.
Back in early September, the session was supposed to be dedicated to congressional redistricting and to last just a day. But political battles over district maps extended the debate, and now Maryland's desperate budget situation has been added to the agenda.
The session drags on.
So far, the Senate has met on seven days, and the House on five. No extra money is available to cover the costs.
The bills, legislative aides say, will have to be paid with funds squeezed out of the current budget.
William S. Ratchford II, director of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, said he estimates a cost of $7,500 for each day legislators convene. That includes reimbursements for lodging and meals -- the limit is $90 a day -- plus mileage, at 25 cents a mile.
Beyond those expenses, the costs are few, Mr. Ratchford said. "The permanent staff of the legislature is here no matter what."
The legislature has done without calling in additional staff, such as the pages who carry papers onto the legislative floor during the regular 90-day winter session. Instead, full-time staff members are doing the job.
L On Tuesdays throughout the year, many legislative committees
routinely schedule meetings, Mr. Ratchford said. "So a lot of legislators would have been in town anyway."
John R. Stierhoff, legislative assistant to the Senate president, estimated a lower price for the daily meetings.
For a one-day session in June, senators billed the state $1,225.32, and delegates asked for $5,069.69 in reimbursements, he said. That put the cost of that meeting at $6,295.01.
"And this might be cheaper," he said. "Fewer people are staying overnight. Most people commute."
F. Carvel Payne, the director of legislative services, said he will have to pay some overtime -- though he estimates no more than $2,000 -- for the extra bill-drafting and computer work for the special session.
He said his department had economized in previous weeks to try to build up a cushion for the session. "In normal times, we would have put in a special appropriation for this session," Mr. Payne said. "But these are not normal times.