Question Regarding Online/Crowd-Sourced Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) For Upcoming State And Local Legislation [closed]

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The Politicus
Jul 06, 2021 05:57 AM 0 Answers
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I am attempting to create an online Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) web site/forum. The site/forum aims to assess the costs and benefits of state and local level legislation through crowd sourcing. The goal of the project is to better educate perspective voters on the costs and benefits of upcoming legislation. The initial phase of the project aims to provide voters with a basic, yet easily digestible set of numeric values. These numeric values aim to quantify the costs and benefits of upcoming legislation.

Through crowd sourcing, the hope is that these valuations can occur in a transparent and open manner. If these valuations are erroneous or misleading, members of the community can debate and correct any invalid valuations. Another hope is that through crowd sourcing, these valuations can occur more quickly than traditional RIA’s. This is important, as RIA’s can sometimes take months if not years to complete and are generally only performed on large/far reaching pieces of legislation.

Before continuing further with the development of the RIA site/forum, I was hoping I could pose a few questions to the community. The questions pertain to various design issues with the RIA site/forum that I have not yet been able to solve for. These questions are theoretical and have to do with how the site/forum should operate. I will begin with questions regarding site/forum membership. Depending on the feedback, I will delve deeper into the design of the project.

Question 1: Should membership be open to everyone and anyone?

Yes: With a greater number of members, the knowledgebase and speed at which RIA’s can be completed would increase.

No: Influence from external parties/non-voters could skew the RIA, resulting in RIA which is beneficial to non-voters. For example, let us say California was voting on legislation to ban meat from non-cattle friendly slaughterhouses. By cattle friendly, I mean cattle which are allowed to openly graze, grass fed, not given hormones, etc. Let us assume that none of the major slaughterhouses in California meet the cattle friendly criteria. Instead, slaughterhouses in another state (e.g., Texas) or another country (e.g., Uruguay) meet the new cattle friendly criteria.

It is possible that people from Texas, Uruguay, etc., could skew the RIA in favor of the legislation. This would ultimately be to the benefit of Texas, Uruguay, etc., both of which do not consist of California voters.

Question 2: Should members have to prove their identification?

Yes: This would ensure that the same person could not create an army of bot accounts to skew RIAs in their favor.

No: Proof of identify would add an extra layer of complexity to the website/forum. Cost of running the website/forum would also increase, as it is likely that a staff would be required to confirm the identity of every member. This assumes that the members first had their identity verified by an authorized notary.

Question 3: Should all members be allowed to contribute to the RIA formulation process, or should this only be available to members who have met some level of contribution status/rating?

Yes: This would ensure that the analysis is as open/unbiased as possible.

No: Allowing anyone to contribute to the RIA process could result in overly biased edits which are made in bad faith (e.g., like we see with hotly debated WikiPedia articles). For example, let us say that an RIA for the following upcoming California legislation:

California Environmental and Sustainability Education Initiative (2022) - Initiative #20-0002

https://ballotpedia.org/California_Environmental_and_Sustainability_Education_Initiative_(2022)

…with the following petition summary:

  • Requires public school students and teachers to receive thirty hours of education, training, and hands-on learning relating to sustainability or the care of the Earth, every two years.

…and the following fiscal impact:

  • Potential costs to schools up to the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually to hire substitute teachers while teachers receive training and provide trainers for teachers.

…is currently calculated as follows:

((cost of bill) / (annual California school budget)) * 100 = % increase in annual California school budget

Assuming we use a range to approximate “low hundreds of millions of dollars” of between 250 million to 500 million dollars. The RIA of the fiscal impact of Initiative #20-0002 would therefore be:

($250,000,000.00 / $90,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.28%

($500,000,000.00 / $90,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.56%

However, a bad faith actor could attempt to argue that the California annual school budget is really 200 billion (which is the budget for the entire state, rather than just schools). By arguing that the California school budget is $200 billion instead of $90 billion, the RIA is drastically altered:

($250,000,000.00 / $200,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.13%

($500,000,000.00 / $200,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.25%

Question 4: Should RIA for legislation be split into 2 camps; those for the legislation and those against?

Yes: By performing two RIAs for a piece of legislation; one RIA calculated by those for the legislation and one RIA calculated by those against the legislation, the RIA can be more of a hypothetical best-case/worstcase RIA. Both RIAs would then be presented to the voter. For example, regarding Initiative #20-0002, the side for the legislation would likely argue that the initiative is but a small drop in the bucket given the previous calculation:

($250,000,000.00 / $90,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.28%

($500,000,000.00 / $90,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget)) * 100 = 0.56%

The side against the legislation could argue that the cost of the initiative should be based off the average annual school budget increase (approximately $2 billion per year), resulting in the following RIA:

($250,000,000.00 / $2,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget increase)) * 100 = 12.50%

($500,000,000.00 / $2,000,000,000.00 (approximate California annual school budget increase)) * 100 = 25.00%

Note: This argues that of the average annual school budget increase, 12.5% to 25% of that average increase would go to Initiative #20-0002.

Technically both sides are correct. This means that the RIA for those for and against the initiative are valid/not erroneous. It is the framing/context of the cost which alters the perceived impact of the initiative. Those for the initiative will attempt to paint the rosiest picture, while those against the initiative will attempt to paint the darkest picture. If the voter has a way of determining how each RIA was derived, I believe that both RIAs could be equally useful.

No: Forcing both sides for and against the initiative to come together on an agreed RIA results in fewer outlier RIAs. By outlier RIAs, I mean RIAs which are so extreme that they are not realistic. For instance, if a hypothetical legislation attempted to legally codify the shape of the Earth. Initially you might get two sides arguing that the Earth is a sphere or an oval. However, it is possible that one side could veer to an extreme and argue that the Earth is flat. These extremes could paint highly unrealistic realities to voters, confusing them more than helping them.

I had quite a few more questions but feel this is enough for now.

My sincere apologies for the long-winded questions.

Thank you.

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