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Kousser: Term limits and the dismantling of state legislative professionalism

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Kousser. 2005. Term limits and the dismantling of state legislative professionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


RESEARCH QUESTION: How do term limits (X1) and legislative resources (X2: staff, salary, session length) affect the form (Y2) and function (Y1) of a legislature?


They don't necessarily eliminate reelection concerns, because term-limited politicians tend to seek higher offices after serving in the legislator. [But why doesn't he consider how this changes incentives? After all, a legislator with ambitions for higher office would provide different policies (i.e. more public goods) than a nonambitious legislator (who will provide pork). See my comments on Carey et al 2003.]

X2: LEGISLATIVE RESOURCES (professionalism)

A continuous variable consisting of three factors: staff size, salary, and session length.


A "transformative" legislature leaves a profound stamp on legislative outcomes. This has two aspects:

  1. How much can the house scrutinze/oppose executive branch proposals?
  2. How able is the legislature to enact innovative policies?


  1. How stable is the house's hierarchy? How long do legislative leaders stay in power?
  2. How independent are committees? Transformative legislatures encourage autonomous committees with expertise.
  3. How successful are minority party legislators relative to the majority?

Each of these 5 aspects of the dependent variables is treated separately in the chapters tha follow.


BIG POINTS: Modeling budget negotiations as a divide the dollar game, Kousser hypothesizes and finds that less experienced and less professional state legislatures will have less influence over the budget process than the governor [he looks at medical and education spending, since they are discretionary]. Term limits make legislators less patient and unwilling to draw out the process, giving the governor more influence. Inexperienced legislatures also don't have the political expertise necessary to accurately anticipate how patient the governor is.


X1: Effect of Term Limits

  • Treatment: States that experienced term limits: CA, CO, OR, ME
  • Control: States that didn't: IL, NM
  • Measure: % changes in governor's budget requests for higher education and health care made by the legislature, measured item by item. Session right before term limits and first session after term limits took effect in treatment states.
  • Data: Governor's Proposals and Final Budget Figures
  • Results: More professional legislatures (in this case, those paid relatively higher salaries) in CA and CO made greater changes to governors' budget proposals in session before term limits than in the first session after. Drop in CA from 16.2% to 6.7%, 10.3% to 2.1% in CO. OR (relatively less professional legislature) 6.1% to 4.0%. ME is an exception with the greatest amount of changes (26.5% to 19.2%), but is a less professional legislature. The control states saw an increase in influence, IL legislature making 3.5% in first session and 6% in second. NM making 2.1% in first, 5.1% in second session.

X2: Effect of Professionalism:

  • Time series 1980-1993 measure of discretionary Medicaid Spending, Compared to a 1992 cross-sectional test of same variables.
  • Measures: Controlling for economic and demographic variables. Measures how partisan control of legislature (republican control) affects spending, then interacting with level of professionalism (greater than average salary per legislator.) Do highly paid legislators have greater influence on policy?
  • Results: Economic and demographic controls have significant effects in expected directions. Republican controlled legislators didn't have significant effect on spending in time series, but the interaction term did, showing that party control affects spending at above average salaries (per legislator). In the cross section, Republican Party control had negative and significant effects, but the interaction term was not significant.

Questions: Do the institutional effects change under deficit conditions? Would the differences be significant?