New Mexico lawmakers likely spent less than the $264,400 in taxpayer funds they had allocated to pay for the special legislative session that ended Thursday, a Legislative Council Service spokesman said Friday.
The bean counters have yet to tally total costs for the session. Per-diem and mileage checks must still be paid to 112 legislators, who are reimbursed at the federal rate of $0.54 per mile driven in addition to a $163 daily rate for expenses such as meals and lodging. Unlike most states, lawmakers in New Mexico receive no salary.
Costs to temporarily convene legislators in Santa Fe has been a political issue since before the session began.
Lawmakers initially anticipated the special session would only deal with how to fix a budget deficit of several hundred million dollars. But Gov. Susana Martinez added a proposed death penalty repeal and other crime measures to the agenda for the session, which came during an election season in which all legislative seats are up for grabs next month.
Democrats highlighted what they said is the $50,000 average daily cost of special sessions while arguing that the crime measures should be considered in the regular 60-day session that begins in January. Republicans countered that the expense of extending the special session was worth trying to bring justice for crime victims.
Other costs include paying Roundhouse staffers such as legislative aides, security personnel and janitors who clean up messes left by lawmakers, some of whom on Thursday debated a death penalty repeal bill from 12:30 a.m. until almost 6 a.m. as caffeinated reporters watched on from the press gallery. Several lawmakers took to the House lounge for sleep during the debate, according to Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo.
Harry Georgeades, owner of the Bull Ring, a downtown Santa Fe steakhouse frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists, said Friday said he spotted familiar faces during the special session, which lasted over a period of seven days beginning Sept. 31.
“We did see a little spike — nothing crazy,” Georgeades said. “But a good spike. It was so fractured. I mean, the House worked late, the Senate went home early.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate met twice, first in a marathon session from noon Sept. 31 until just after midnight, passing several budget measures. The Republican-controlled House considered both budget and crime bills as it met each day except Tuesday. Senators then returned and met again for less than an hour on Thursday, sending the House budget to the governor’s desk while refusing to consider House crime bills.
John Yaeger, assistant director for legislative affairs at the Legislative Council Service, said in an email Friday that the council service will likely not calculate final costs for the session for several weeks.
The Legislature met in special session 17 times between 1990 and 2015, according to the Legislative Council Service. Those sessions lasted an average of seven days and cost $307,025. The average cost per day for the special sessions held over that 25-year period was $43,589.
Justin Horwath can be reached at 505-986-3017 or [email protected].