Sunset legislation, administration and political apparatus: a new research from George Mason University


Sunset provisions are clauses embedded in legislation that allow a piece of legislation or a regulatory board to expire on a certain date unless the legislature takes affirmative action to renew the legislation or board.

There might be several reasons that justify sunset review. Firstly, it supports good government practices, because it allows to serve the public interest in an administratively efficient and cost effective way. Secondly, it might also create the rhetorical image that politicians are taking carefully in account public expenses, but with few real results. Still, according to the preliminary assumptions of researchers Brian Baugus and Feler Bose, it might become a rent-seeking opportunity for the political apparatus towards the executive branch and stakeholders. The threat of being removed might push the agency, as well as the interested groups that benefit from its continuation, to curry favour with politicians.

However, the analysis has shown that rent-seeking is not as persuasive as expected. Namely, the phenomenon might have a slightly different explanation. The sunset process appears to be an effective bargaining tool for the legislature to minimize the executive’s influence on a wide variety of state boards and agencies. It is a way for the legislature to make its veto power credible and to influence agencies’ agendas.

For further information, see the full paper Sunset Legislation in the States: Balancing the Legislature and the Executive

(Mariasole Porpora)