News Story

Enacting A New State Law Costs $272,500, On Average

All those ‘Dead On Arrival’ position-taking bills cost money too

The average cost of passing a new state law in Michigan is $272,500, according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Bureau.

But that estimate comes with so many qualifications and variables that the service bureau has no faith that the figure is meaningful.

State Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, had requested the analysis.

“Calculating an estimate for the cost of passing a piece of legislation would require making assumptions about a number of variables. We do not have the data necessary to make reasonable assumptions about many of these variables and therefore cannot provide you with an estimated average/typical cost,” said Neil Weinberg, a research analyst, in a memo.

“Even estimating a credible range would be difficult,” Weinberg continued. “It would not surprise me if some enrolled bills cost a few thousand dollars and some complex legislation cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we do not have the data necessary to make any sort of reasonable estimate.”

The bureau's estimate was based on $352.1 million that was appropriated for the legislative branch during the tenure of the 2017-18 legislature. Of that amount, $73.9 million was for costs unrelated to enacting new laws, including for the Legislative Retirement System, the State Capital Historical Site and the Office of the Auditor General.

The remaining $278.2 million, divided by the 1,021 pieces of legislation passed during that two-year period, produces an average cost of $272,500 for every bill that becomes a law. This includes all the steps and processes that must occur along the way. There were 3,879 bills and 63 joint resolutions introduced during the 24 months of the 2017-18 legislature. Most of them never advanced or got a hearing, but they still cost money, according to the Legislative Service Bureau.

“Legislation that did not become law accounts for a significant amount of the Legislature’s activities,” the memo stated. “We do not have the necessary data to estimate the share of legislative resources devoted to legislation that passed compared to legislation that did not pass.”

Lawmakers are able to request a certain number of bills. These are drafted by a team of full-time attorneys employed by the bureau.

The method used to calculate the average cost per bill produces a very rough estimate, and includes costs that are not associated with drafting and enacting bills. For example, the Legislature’s budget includes allotments for lawmakers’ office expenses and a staff, who perform many tasks unrelated to passing bills, such as assisting constituents trying to navigate state bureaucracies. The Legislature also performs oversight functions to monitor the executive branch and state departments, activities which carry their own costs.