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By Ian K. Kullgren September 5, 2013

Do special legislative sessions set Oregon back $40,000 each day?

While Gov. John Kitzhaber has been considering whether he’ll call the Oregon Legislature back for a special session to look at further cuts to government pensions, some lawmakers are making their opinions known.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, a Medford Republican, thinks a special session is a bad idea and wrote an opinion piece about it, which appeared in The Mail Tribune, a paper in southern Oregon.

"This sounds like a good idea and an admirable goal on the surface, but it also raises any number of questions," he wrote. "The most important is obvious — why wasn’t this done during the five-month legislative session that we just adjourned?"

Esquivel lists a number of arguments, but one caught our attention straight away: "Every day of a legislative session costs Oregon taxpayers $40,000. That includes paying staff, as well as per diem for legislators. And given the governor’s historically poor track record when it comes to special sessions, that is probably not the best use of our limited resources."

We vaguely remembered the last special session, when lawmakers convened to give Nike a tax break, but we didn’t remember the bill being so high, so we decided to check it out.

First we looked through some of The Oregonian’s articles about the late 2012 special session to see what we’d reported as the cost as then. According to politics reporter Christian Gaston, the per-day cost (and it only lasted a day) of that session was $13,000.

That’s a long way from what Esquivel quoted.  We shot Esquivel a quick email to see if he could point us toward his sources. The price, he said through a staffer, had come from the "Legislative Finance Office."

We checked in with Sandra Rierson, the manager of the Financial Services department, who explained that the price depends on the kind of session you’re talking about.

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The cost per day of the longer regular sessions comes in at $34,901 a day but a special session is considerably less expensive at $13,000.

Both numbers do not include the basic costs of keeping the Capitol running, which would get spent with or without lawmakers in the building. So why the difference?

Given the short time frame of a special session, there aren’t nearly as many hires. "We try to use existing staff as much as possible," Rierson said.

We called Esquivel to get his response. He said he based the statement on numbers he’d been given years ago. "I was told in the past by LFO that it was $36,000 per day and that was (six) years ago. I am assuming that that number did in fact go up so I concluded $40,000."

The figure we received, however, was the most recent average-per-day cost available from the finance department so we’re sticking with it.

In an opinion piece arguing against a possible special legislative session, Esquivel said a legislative session costs $40,000 a day. In fact, it’s closer to $35,000, and that’s for regular legislative sessions. Esquivel, however, was making the argument against a special session. The cost per day for that comes in at a much lower $13,000.

Because his opinion piece addresses special sessions in particular, there is no truth to his statement -- not to mention the fact that he didn’t use current numbers for regular sessions.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Rep. Sal Esquivel, "Real PERS reform needs to fix the underlying issue," Aug. 11, 2013

E-mail from Rep. Sal Esquivel, Sept. 3, 2013

The Oregonian, "Nike Session a carefully orchestrated performance," Jan. 13, 2013

Interview with Sandra Rierson, Oregon Legislature Financial Services manager, Sept. 3, 2013

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Do special legislative sessions set Oregon back $40,000 each day?

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