In 1992, Missouri voters approved lifetime term-limits for General Assembly members, limiting members to serving a maximum of eight years in each chamber. In light of state legislative term limits, there is a significant need for improved systems to access and maintain institutional knowledge. Across the United States, states have started to improve institutional knowledge by developing robust, interagency data management systems, combined with sufficient access to nonpartisan research staff and training.
Institutional knowledge consists of the information, expertise, data and resources that state legislative bodies rely on to make policy and budget decisions. Greater institutional knowledge is typically associated with increased productivity, fewer mistakes, increased transparency, and more teamwork and collaboration. The extent to which legislators rely on institutional knowledge varies depending on the political and technical complexity of the issue, as well as the time needed to make a decision (committee vs. floor debate).1 Legislators often consult several sources of information and expertise— state agencies, veteran legislators, organized groups and lobbyists, partisan and nonpartisan staff. Missouri lawmakers especially depend on the Senate and House Research Offices for an unbiased, historical perspective on past legislation and debates. However, the relatively few nonpartisan staff in these offices are primarily focused on bill and amendment drafting, leaving limited time to respond to informational requests.
Term limits were introduced in several state legislatures (Figure 1) in the 1990s to restrict the impact of interest groups and reduce the incumbency advantage; however, opponents feared that term limits would disrupt the connection between constituents and elected officials, incentivize short-term solutions, and reduce institutional knowledge and power of legislatures.2 In Missouri and other states with legislative term limits, there is no evidence that term limits have decreased the impact of interest groups or made open seats more competitive.3 There is evidence, however, that term limits increase the influence of lobbyists, interest groups, and state agencies on information gathering and decision making, shifting some policy-making power away from the legislature.2-4 Additionally, states with term limits tend to spend relatively more money than states without term limits. The effects of term limits on fiscal policy are more pronounced in the lower chamber, where Missouri's budget process begins, since senators tend to have more legislative experience.5 With less experience and expertise, new lawmakers may be prone to making short-term fiscal decisions. Indeed, there is evidence that states with term limits encounter challenges in balancing budgets and declines in state general funds.5 Additional research is needed to understand how term limits lead to these fiscal outcomes and what approaches could be used to improve spending decisions in states with term limits.
Improved data management systems and interagency collaboration: Because many publicly funded programs depend on input and data from a range of state agencies, legislators must be able to easily access this information to make evidence-based decisions. Some states have bolstered their data sharing by creating integrated data hubs that pool and analyze data across agencies. Ohio’s state data systems were consolidated in 2019 to form the InnovateOhio Platform. The Lieutenant Governor oversees the program, along with a Chief Data Advocate who collects, analyzes and shares data to improve state programs. Less than a year after launching, the Ohio Office of Budget and Management announced that the InnovateOhio platform was able to use data analytics to identify 107 duplicate payments across 27 state agencies, boards and commissions, resulting in almost one million dollars in savings.7 Similarly , the Indiana Management Performance Hub (MPH) integrates data from a range of state agencies to inform complex policy debates. For example, the MPH contains the Education and Workforce database, which brings together data from twelve state agencies and addresses the connections between education, workforce development, health, corrections, and social services. A Chief Data Officer and their staff have a budget to coordinate data analytics across state agencies and oversee the MPH. According to a 2018 annual report, the Hub has generated an estimated return on investment of $40 million for the state.8 More recently Indiana launched the Indiana Data Partnership to expand data and technology sharing by connecting government, nonprofit and private sector entities to address important issues like education, workforce, and healthcare.
Evidence-based budgeting: When considering how states should spend limited funds, it is useful to understand which programs are the most effective and identify areas of unnecessary or harmful spending. In 2018, Missouri released the Missouri Budget Explorer, an online resource where legislators and the public can access detailed information about the state budget. Beginning in 2019, the Budget Explorer also tracks performance measures for each publicly funded program using the Program Description Forms, which require that agencies provide information about program activity, quality, impact, and efficiency (Figure 3).
Colorado, Mississippi, North Carolina and New Mexico have used a similar approach with specific checklists to ensure that budget requests are based on research, consider return on investment and provide plans to evaluate the efficacy of programs.6 These budget requests can then be used to inform future legislators (and legislative committee analysts) who can compare expected effects to actual outcomes to make better budget decisions. In states with term limits, these requirements may provide a robust record to retain institutional knowledge, even with the turnover of veteran legislators with budget expertise. In addition to budget checklists, Tennessee and Minnesota have implemented program rating systems that rate publicly funded programs as: proven effective, promising, mixed effects, no effect, proven harmful or theory based. These ratings are publicly available and create a quick and understandable way for legislators to evaluate programs in subsequent years.
Staffing & Training: Staff who carry over between legislative leadership have been cited as a strategy to retain institutional knowledge at the state and federal level. In a 2019 report, the National Association of Public Administration partially attributed a decline in institutional knowledge in the U.S. Congress to staff declines in member offices, on committees, and at congressional support agencies, like the Congressional Research Service.10 In Maine, committee staff have found it easier to respond to the increased demand for their services by maintaining detailed files on bills considered, testimony received and amendments offered for several sessions before the files are transferred to state archives. This information is useful to legislators who wish to determine how a particular issue was handled in the past. California also hosts the Capitol Institute for Training which is required for all legislative staff. To ensure additional staffing consistency, the California Senate does not permit committee chairs to change committee staff until six months into the legislative session. Even then, they may only replace one staff member at a time.