FISCAL NOTES CRITICAL TO LEGISLATIVE DECISION-MAKING
Fiscal notes, developed by the House Fiscal Office, are required for all legislation having an impact on "the estimated revenue, expenditure or fiscal liability of the state." In practice, they get done for just 7% of relevant legislation...
During the 2013 General Assembly session, some 2,389 bills or resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives, an average of 38+ per member. House Finance heard more than 10% of them, but only 21 fiscal notes were issued.
Given the sheer amount of information to be accessed, read, analyzed and understood, it is a huge challenge for members of the General Assembly to understand what they are voting for, or what the cost to taxpayers will be.
In 1965, it was this reality that stimulated the passage of RIGL Chapter 22-12, Fiscal Notes, which set out a process through which the financial impact of legislation was evaluated and made clear to members of the General Assembly prior to passage.
Despite this legal requirement, only 21 fiscal notes were published during this 2013 session. Chapter 22-12 doesn’t say some bills, or select bills. The statute says “all bills and resolutions having an effect on the revenues, expenditures, or fiscal liability of the state, which can be calculated with reasonable accuracy, excepting appropriation measures carrying specific dollar amounts…”
Fiscal notes, which are prepared by the State Budget Office, are not automatic, and must be requested. Requests are submitted by the Chair of the House Finance Committee upon notification by another committee chair or the sponsor of a bill or resolution. A similar process, involving the DOA and the RI League of Cities & Towns, is followed in the case of bills or resolutions affecting cities or towns.
Once requested, the State Budget Office has ten calendar days in which to complete a fiscal note, which is then returned to the chair of the requesting committee and to the sponsor of the bill or resolution. If the budget office fails to return a note within the time period provided, the House Fiscal Advisor may request the pertinent information directly from the affected agency or department and prepare its own, interim fiscal note.
The goal of this proposed legislation is to compel the House to observe existing law as set forth in RIGL 22-12. To this end, RIGL Chapter 22-12-1 is to require delivery of fiscal notes to committee members not later than three days prior to the time a bill is schedule for hearing. The legislation authorizes a committee “override” of this requirement, but only by a unanimous vote of committee members.
This should not be a contentious matter, since the process is already a matter of law. And having members of the General Assembly more familiar with the real cost of the legislation they are voting for can be nothing but a good thing.