Expensive: The Costs of a Convention

Expensive: A constitutional convention could have a huge price tag.

A constitutional convention would be expensive, potentially costing the state millions of dollars – and could result in no substantive changes or benefits.

As Alaskans prepare to vote on holding a constitutional convention, an important element of that decision will be just how much such an event might cost. And while concrete numbers are somewhat elusive, a combination of historical data and past research indicates a convention will be incredibly expensive.

First, the background. The convention process outlined in the state constitution requires the convention “conform as nearly as possible to the act calling the Alaska Constitutional Convention of 1955,” unless other provisions are made by law. Alaska Constitutional expert Dr. Gordon Harrison says it’s likely the legislature will need to pass new provisions for the convention to be functional, as many features of the original convention won’t be suitable any longer.

Second, assuming the convention is approved by voters and can be operated functionally, a delegate election must be held – either a special election called by the legislature, or as a part of the next regular statewide election. Estimated costs for a special election can vary, but they can be expensive, tallying in the millions of dollars.

Third, the convention itself will have to be paid for. That means money for things like:

  • Attorney fees for review, consultation, and convention support – documents will have to be prepared, drafted, and reviewed to ensure they pass legal muster before going to voters.
  • Venue and event security – Support for the security and safety of attendees and delegates will be required.
  • Support staff for delegates – The convention will likely operate similar to other conventions and the state legislature – with key staff helping draft language, review documents, and ensure that delegates are well-briefed on the various provisions they’ll have to vote on.
  • Venue rental – Where will the convention actually take place? Facility rental fees and other costs for its use will accrue as well.
  • Convention operations – how will the delegates vote? Will there be secure computer systems put in place to facilitate sharing of information? Will the proceedings be broadcast on Gavel2Gavel like the legislature’s operations are?
  • Salaries & per diem for 65 delegates – Based on the 1955 Convention and other proposals that were considered in the 1970s, a good guess for the number of convention delegates is about 65 (one for each House and Senate District plus 5 at-large delegates). The delegates and their staff will need to be paid and may be eligible to receive per diem as well – as they should be for their hard work, but this might be the most expensive line item of them all.

A rough estimate for all of that activity is about $17 million – assuming 60 days of pre-event support, a 75-day convention, and 30 days post-event wrap-up. There’s no limit on how long the convention could go, so that expensive cost could be on the low-end.

And it could all be for nothing. Even after delegates ratify constitutional changes – which they might not be able to do – those changes have to go back before voters for approval. It’s a long and arduous process, rife with costs at every turn.