Estimate Bills’ Cost Accurately
West Virginia legislators, not to mention taxpayers, deserve accurate estimates of what proposed new laws will cost. Lawmakers are not getting them – and know it -according to a report issued this week.
Changes are needed in how the costs of legislative proposals are calculated, the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy urged in the report.
In compiling it, the CBP asked all members of the Legislature how they feel about the “fiscal notes” included with many bills. Forty-three lawmakers responded and the vast majority agreed the notes are not accurate.
They have good reason for skepticism. According to the CBP report, of 68 bills including fiscal notes that were examined, the estimates were within 10 percent of the measures’ actual costs in only nine cases.
The problem is obvious: State agencies prepare cost estimates. The bureaucrats are likely to overestimate costs for plans they dislike, while downplaying expenses for those they support.
An outrageous example of that was pointed out by the CBP. It involves a bill requiring physical education classes in public schools. The state Department of Education prepared the fiscal note, estimating the cost at $1.5 billion.
How was that astronomical figure calculated? By including construction of new gymnasiums and other facilities at schools throughout the state. Clearly, many – if not all – of the new facilities would not have been needed.
CBP officials are not the only people who have called for better cost analysis of legislative proposals. Various suggestions, including that an independent office answerable only to the Legislature be created, have been put forth.
Clearly, if legislators are to do their work – again, representing taxpayers – intelligently, some new system is needed. Lawmakers should set one up, preferably in time to provide input for the regulation legislative session next year. Money spent on an accurate cost analysis system should be recouped in that session.