September 1, 2015

Sunset Clauses Lead to Political Power Plays, but Some Good Government

Feler Bose

Associate Professor of Economics, Anderson University
Summary

The sunset review process looks like good government – and some evidence suggests there is an aspect of it that is – but the bigger game is that it's a tool the legislature uses to keep the agencies in line and from becoming too tied to the governor's agenda. Sunset review is a pawn in a bigger power game that has the potential to produce some good government side effects.

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Almost everyone, regardless of political persuasion, can point to some aspect of government that has outlived its usefulness or is a waste of time and money. Getting rid of the "waste, fraud and abuse" is a constant campaign theme. Such claims imply there must be plentiful opportunities to bring efficiencies to government and that a process such as the sunset review process, designed to rid government of bloat and inefficiency, would be well used. Pioneered in the mid-1970s, the sunset clause is, indeed, at least one good government tool.

Sunset clauses are provisions written into the law, most often laws establishing regulatory agencies, which end the agency's existence, unless the legislature acts to extend its life. The sunset review process requires that the agency defend its existence and justify its continuation. We examined the sunset clause and its use and found that it was not just about good governance but also a political power play.

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