Tomorrow North Dakota’s part-time Legislature will reconvene itself for the first time in the history of the state. Their goal will be to finish the budget for the Public Employees Retirement System which was let unfinished when the House and Senate couldn’t reconcile their differences over health care plans for public employees.
I spoke with Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) on the Jay Thomas Show today about the renewed session, and Wardner made an interesting point (audio above). One of the criticisms of the session was that it is adding expenses to the taxpayers, but Wardner said it’s actually saving money.
Yes, saving money. And he kind of has a point, I suppose. According to Legislative Council one day of the regular session costs about $77,000 by the time you add up pay for all of the clerks and the lawmakers and other expenses. But this reconvened session will only have a skeleton crew in terms of staff, and will only cost about $45,000 per day. On top of that , a lot of the lawmakers – about 70 according to Wardner – had to be in Bismarck anyway for committee hearings so their travel expenses would be something the taxpayers would be paying for anyway.
But still, how is this saving us money?
Wardner pointed out that the House and Senate was at such an impasse earlier this year that they would certainly have stayed in session for at least one more day, possibly two. But because the Legislature went sine die only to reconvene at a later date, for less money, Wardner says the taxpayers will save tens of thousands of dollars.
Wardner told me that the Legislature closing down session and reconvening was the “best thing we could have done.” He also said that he will be “very upset” if lawmakers don’t make this a quick session in Bismarck today. He expects them to wrap up their business by noon.
As for saving money, what Wardner says makes sense, but lawmakers shouldn’t make a habit out of this kind of thing. The last thing we need is for brinksmanship to become a regular feature of legislating in North Dakota.