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How much does a special session and the impeachment trial cost Texas taxpayers?

 Gov. Greg Abbott called for a second special session focused solely on cutting property taxes.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
KUT News
Gov. Greg Abbott called for a second special session focused solely on cutting property taxes.

It all depends on how many days the Texas Legislature stays in session.

The regular session might be over but lawmakers will still be busy at the Capitol this summer.

Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session just hours after the House and Senate adjourned on Monday, and he said there will be more special sessions to come this year.

The Senate will also be busy with the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton, which lawmakers have said will start no later than Aug. 28.

But how much will this extra activity at the statehouse cost taxpayers?

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said 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.”

Paying every legislator a per diem for 30 days costs taxpayers around $1 to $1.3 million, Jones said. Additional costs of staffing and operations brings the cost of a 30 day special session to between $2 to $3 million, he said.

However, there is no guarantee that lawmakers spend the full 30 days in a special session. In a move that surprised some, House Speaker Dade Phelan quickly passed a border security bill and the House version of property tax relief and abruptly adjourned Tuesday.

This left the Senate and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with the option to take the House plan or leave the session with nothing.

“In the case of the House, they were only in a special session for one day,” Jone said. “So that’s $221 per diem per legislator and a little bit in terms of overall overhead expenses.”

Jones said he is not sure what Patrick and the Senate will do in the face of the House’s adjournment.

“The governor weighed in saying he really liked the House bill and he wants the lieutenant governor to pass it,” Jones said. “The Senate meets again on Friday. I suspect they won’t probably be passing it and they’ll force the governor to call another special session where perhaps they’ll have more debate between the chambers about what the actual optimal property tax relief for both chambers is.”

Jones said there will also be a taxpayer cost associated with the Senate’s impeachment trial for Attorney General Ken Paxton, though it is harder to know what that cost will be.

“Until the Senate writes the rules, which it’s not going to do until the end of the month, we have no real idea about how long the impeachment trial is going to be,” Jones said. “Obviously, if it’s only a week, that’s going to be much less expensive than if it’s a month. We’re also going to see resources devoted towards defense prosecution. If I had to guess, if it goes for like three weeks, we’re probably looking at a $1 to $2 to $3 million expenditure.”

There is also the question of additional special sessions on the horizon. Jones said on top of taxpayer costs, more time at the statehouse can negatively impact some lawmakers.

“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.”

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Sarah Asch | Texas Standard