Every day that the Louisiana Legislature meets in special session is costing the state tens of thousands of dollars, as lawmakers attempt to fix a $900 million budget shortfall.

The total price tag of the special legislative session could approach $1 million, based on estimates from legislative budget leaders.

The average cost per legislative day is about $25,000 for the Senate and $35,000 for the House, the Legislative Fiscal Office determined last year, based on information from each chamber’s counting office. That cost per day includes per diem that legislators receive, as well as additional desk staff and support staff wages, staff overtime, related benefits and the travel allowance that’s given to members for their trips to Baton Rouge.

Gov. John Bel Edwards called a special session from Feb. 14 to March 9. That means if both chambers of the Legislature met every day available to them, the cost would be about $1.5 million. Lawmakers aren’t meeting every day so the real total likely will be less.

Already, lawmakers have taken some time off for weekends. The Senate didn’t meet Friday through Sunday, for example, because it has been waiting on bills from the House that must originate in the lower session. Meanwhile, the House didn’t meet on Saturday, and only the Ways and Means Committee met on Sunday. That brings the House to a total of eight days of special session and the Senate to seven, counting Tuesday. At that rate, the special session has racked up a tab of roughly $455,000, so far.

That total doesn’t count any pay that may be owed by the executive branch, which has had representatives at each of the hearings, nor would that number account for any additional costs incurred by state agencies that have been sending representatives to committee meetings.

What is a special session?

A special session is a meeting of the legislature that occurs outside of the regular annual legislative session. The Louisiana Legislature is scheduled to begin its regular session on March 14 — just days after the special session ends.

In Louisiana, a special session, also called an extraordinary session, can be called by the governor or through a more complicated process, in which the presiding officers of both chambers, following a written petition of a majority of the elected members of each, can convene the Legislature.

In this case, it was called by Gov. Edwards, and the Legislature can only take up matters that can be tied to the items enumerated in his official call.

The special session is limited to the number of days stated in a governor’s proclamation, but cannot exceed 30 days. Edwards’ call was for 25 days, meaning they face a real deadline of March 9 to fix the budget mess.

Why has a special session been called specifically this time?

The Louisiana Legislature can only take up fiscal legislation in odd-numbered years — so 2015 or 2017 would be fine for the budget maneuvers they are eyeing, but they are barred from taking up bills like tax hikes in 2016 without a special session on fiscal matters.

Edwards called the Legislature into special session to specifically address the $900 million shortfall in the budget that ends June 30 and potential fixes for the budget that begins July 1. Edwards’ proposals include a series of tax increases, including a one-cent sales tax increase and a 22-cent cigarette tax hike, as well as potential budget cuts or cost-cutting measures.

Follow along with The Advocate’s special legislative session coverage.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.

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