Rhode Island officials decided this week to take an easy and useful step to improve public access to the state budget process: post online the official state estimates (known as “fiscal notes”) of how much money proposed legislation would cost — or save — the state.
The role of fiscal notes in the legislative process varies by state, but in most states they are highly influential, and the information they contain can determine whether policymakers approve a bill or not. It’s important that states post these estimates online so that the public, the media, and policymakers can review them and judge their accuracy.
As a report we released last week with ACLU indicates, rigorous fiscal notes have numerous benefits, including helping states recognize the value of certain criminal justice reforms that save money while protecting public safety.
With Rhode Island’s recent decision, only six states still do not post their fiscal notes online: Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Mississippi. One of these states — Hawaii — never produces fiscal notes, which is a problem in itself. The others should follow Rhode Island’s lead and make their budget process more transparent.