By William Porter
Yes, you read that correctly. Certain legislators in the Empire State have proposed a bill that will, in all seriousness, be called A Study on Studies. And while ‘New York Legislators and a Study on Studies’ may sound like a Harry Potter novel written by Mitch McConnell, the latter is the name of a serious legislative proposal put forth by two state legislators.
As Kafkaesque as this bill may seem, it actually turns the spotlight to an interesting issue: the fiscal validity of state-conducted studies. The crux of the question is: is the state Legislature too liberal with its passing of bills which mandate the conduct of different studies? From the perspective of fiscal responsibility, the answer to this is debatable. On one hand, some issues obviously require further examination via studies. But on the other, state agencies may simply be forced to conduct too many fruitless studies, wasting valuable taxpayer dollars and time.
So, how will the Legislature go about deciding which one of these is the case? Naturally, by conducting a study on the matter. Sen. James Skoufis, one of the legislators introducing the bill, is not unaware of the ironic humor in this situation. However, as silly as it may seem; he still maintains that all of the study-mandating bills will have to be, well, studied. According to Skoufis, too many legislators are prone to ordering studies simply for the purposes of a political statement. That’s why he and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell have proposed the aforementioned bill, coming head to head with this issue.
But does the issue they’ve put forward actually have any merit? Well, only time (and the ironically mandated study on the subject) will tell. Though, there’s definitely no shortage of material to go through before reaching a conclusion. This year alone, state legislators have put forward more than 100 bills which have “conduct a study” as part of their titles. On top of that, there are even more bills which also mandate the same, but with the use of different phrasing. And you’d be surprised just how far and wide these studies go, in terms of the subjects examined.
If you were to go through the bills, you’d find mandated studies on topics ranging all the way from improbably useful to entirely fantastical. For example, you could encounter New York state studies on the usefulness of daylight saving time or the actual effectiveness of helmets for motorcyclists. State legislators also, at some point, demanded to know about the future of artificial intelligence. But while some of these topics may be actual economic issues that need to be examined, the question is: does the 2019 New York legislative Assembly truly need to know if a robot can be held responsible for breaking the law?
The critics’ standpoint on this issue is fairly apparent. For one, they argue that many of these bills don’t order studies which are actually geared towards solving a current real-life issue. Instead, their sole purpose seems to be to garner political points with their voter base which may find the issues interesting or appealing; but without actually tackling the problems therein. That’s why Sen. Skoufis believes that the state of New York should examine whether all of these studies are actually worth the money and time of the taxpayers.
Naturally, there’s another side of the coin—if the ordering of state studies would be limited by law, this could present complications when actually important examinations would need to be conducted. The proponents of the continuation of the current policy on state studies want to avoid this ‘the legislator who cried study’ situation. And this is not a point without merit—there’s no reason why we can’t imagine a scenario where legislators would use limitations on studies to block an informed debate on issues which they don’t wish to discuss.
Though, Sen. Skoufis was quick to ascertain that his goal is not to end, or even necessarily reduce the number of studies. Still, he demands that the need for all of them be examined, in order to strike a balance between their usefulness and fiscal responsibility. At the end of the day, most legislators can’t remember ever hearing about a study bill that they’ve enacted actually making a significant change.
Apart from that, there’s also another, more practical political issue with the state conduct on studies. Barnwell was quick to mention, for example, the political imbalance that exists in the myriad study commissions, which can affect the balance in the state government.
Indeed, it seems that, on average, the studies that have more appointees from the governor have better odds of getting the governor’s signature. And that means a political imbalance in favor of the executive office and less power to the Legislature.
This newly proposed ‘Study on Studies’ will demand that a meta-study be conducted by the Department of State. This study will examine the cost-effectiveness of previous studies, by looking at their expenses and their success in producing relevant reports. Plus, they’ll take a look at the percentage of study recommendations that actually found their way into other legislation down the line.
While the name of the bill may be intentionally ironic, and somewhat ludicrous in order to draw more attention to the matter—it can’t be said that this isn’t an issue that’s worth further examination. And yes, we won’t say ‘further study’; it would just be a bit too much.
William Porter is a legal and economic journalist, mostly writing about the regulatory framework changes regarding shipping and moving companies, such as Capital City Movers NYC.