Wednesday, March 16, 2011

State Government

Great post today from Matt Yglesias about Arizona state government. As Yglesias points out, the main consequence of an amateur legislature (which is what you get from term limits, low salaries, and little or no staff) is that you get, instead, government by lobbyists -- because lobbyists are the only ones around who actually know anything about state government.

Other than the obvious implication that states shouldn't have that sort of legislature, I think the real takeaway from his point is to keep in mind that when we hear wacky policy proposals from the states, there's an excellent chance that the politicians involved have no clue about what they're doing. Either they're trying to enact something a lobbyist has given them that they don't understand, or they're off on their own, flailing around.

We tend to assume that someone who offers a bill about, say, immigration is at least vaguely familiar with the basic policy arguments involved, and has drafted a bill at least somewhat carefully in order to achieve the results the sponsor things would be good policy. That's usually the case in Congress. But at the state legislative level, especially in term-limited states, it's very likely that that assumption does not hold.

(Update: doc in comments asks about how state legislative professionalism varies. I'm not an expert, but I can, and should have in the original post, refer you to where to read more: Thad Krousser's Term Limits and the Dismantling of State Legislative Professionalism).


  1. It would be useful, I think, for those of us who are not spending our lives on state governance issues to have some idea whichstates those are. I know Indiana is one, in some respects (short sessions, part-time legislators, small staffs--but not as small as Arizona's--hut without term limits). Where are the others? Is there a regional pattern?

    And that's not to say that full-time, well-staffed state legislatures always work well (ess Illinois).

  2. Nebraska is a great case-in-point.

    Short sessions, tiny salaries, small staff, 2-term limit, run by lobbyists.

    Interestingly, it was not always that way. The term limits are pretty new. I'm sure some academics have written about it, or if not, they should.

    In the 60s-90s the Unicameral legislature (with only 49 members) was anchored by a few "professional" long serving members from both parties. Those guys kept the crazy riff-raff off the floor, and cleaned up the wackier bills before they were passed. But term limits got the last of those guys out last decade-- and it's deteriorated quickly.


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