It may well be the $128 million dollar remodeled Statehouse effect: legislators and the Governor comfortable in their cushy digs and getting less work done. Or, it may be a long-term trend that continues where there ability to make decisions in a timely and efficient manner is a thing of the past.
Whatever the cause, the recently adjourned 2012 session of the Idaho Legislature appears to have turned in a productivity rate ever so slightly higher than that in 2011. Both most recent years were less productive than 2010 when the new Statehouse opened. But the results (see chart below) can still claim to be better than the disfunctional 2009 session. The bad news is 2009 was the worst session on record and 2011 and 2012 rate the 5th and 6th worst.
The productivity index (Y axis) is an objective rating based on the number of proposed bills and resolutions, plus a weighting for those bills and resolutions enacted. The number of vetoes is a factor weighing as a negative for productivity. For the 2012 session there have been 196 bills signed into law and there are another 106 headed to the Governor’s office awaiting his action. This index assumes he will sign all the legislation into law, which is a pretty good bet given the Governor’s lack of interest in using the veto which he has shown since his spate of bills vetoed in 2009 largely backfired on him. So if anything the chart’s productivity index for 2012 may be slightly generous if some vetoes happen in the next week or so.
Historically, the least productive sessions occurred in 1983, 1984, 2003 and 2009, and all sessions are tied to economic recessions and struggles over tax issues. The 5th and 6th least productive sessions in the past 53 years were 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Some twenty years ago the Idaho Supreme Court gave the Idaho Legislature the authority to exercise a legislative veto on agency rules and regulations. Some time of the legislative session is handed over to rule review. But the added time cannot explain the long-term slide in productivity because the Legislature recorded some of its most productive years following the 1989 Idaho Supreme Court decision.
For more than 15 years the productivity index has shown a continued slide since its peak year in 1995. That was the first year in a quarter century when the Republican Party controlled both the Legislature and the Governor’s office. But the efficiencies that come with less political diversity (or divided government) immediately began to erode tp where we find ourselves today.