Project Helps State Lawmakers Shape National Public Policy

Published April 1, 2006

State legislators do more than decide the direction of the policies of their respective states, an ongoing advisory project points out. They also shape the national debate.

A project allowing state legislators to weigh in effectively on national issues was launched in 2001. The State Legislative Advisory Project, which runs under the auspices of Americans for Tax Reform (for which this author works), asks state legislators to introduce and pass resolutions supporting pro-growth, free-market policies and calling on their Congressional delegations to take specific action on specific issues.

A legislator who has regularly participated in the State Legislative Advisory Project, Louisiana state Rep. Steve Scalise (R- Metairie), explains the importance of the project: “Decisions made in Washington affect the lives of every American. It is important that we as legislators communicate with Congress so they will know the issues that are most important to us. We ask citizens to participate in government so their voices will be heard. Legislators need to practice this as well so Congress will know where we stand on critical issues.”

States Talk, Feds Listen

When state legislative bodies take a position on an issue of national importance, and this position becomes actual legislation at the state level, Congressional delegations listen, project participants note.

In 2001, for instance, the State Legislative Advisory Project asked legislators across the country to pass resolutions in support of President George W. Bush’s tax relief proposal. Sensing the urgency, 27 legislative bodies from 16 states passed resolutions, which were then hand-delivered by leaders from the states that passed these resolutions to their state’s U.S. Senate offices. Congress passed the tax relief package even though Senate Democrats had declared it “dead on arrival.”

Since 2001, the State Legislative Advisory Project has grown, and it has helped state legislators shape national policy and build their own records on federal issues. This has proven to be particularly helpful for legislators with higher aspirations, such as running for Congress, because it gives them the opportunity to establish a track record on national issues early on.

Feds Get State Perspective

Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) points out members of Congress can benefit from the program because they may not be as close to their constituents, partly because of geography and partly because they represent larger districts than state legislators do. The State Legislative Advisory Project gives members a better idea of where citizens in their districts stand on the issues.

“Because state legislators generally represent smaller constituencies, and because our legislative schedules usually permit us to remain within the state, we have the opportunity to meet more frequently and more personally with citizens,” Metcalfe said. “This allows us to have a clear understanding of where our constituents stand on certain issues that fall under the purview of the federal government. I feel that it is my responsibility, whenever possible, to convey those views to federal lawmakers.”

Thus the project serves as a thermometer, Metcalfe said, telling members of Congress how “hot” an issue really is.

Meet Congressional Leaders

Each year since the project’s inception, Americans for Tax Reform has worked to bring the legislators who introduced and helped pass the resolutions to Washington, D.C. for a full day of meetings with Congressional leaders, administration officials, and other interested parties.

“These events are an extraordinary experience for any state legislator,” Metcalfe said. “They include meetings with high-ranking White House officials, and even President Bush himself. I have always left these events with a clear and positive understanding of the president’s vision for America.”

Scalise agrees: “One of the highlights of the State Legislative Advisory Project is the opportunity to meet with some of our nation’s most influential decision makers in Washington, D.C. It is rare to have such direct access to the people who make policy for our nation and give them input on how it will affect us at the state level. It is invaluable to be able to go to Washington and meet with our nation’s top decision makers. The State Legislative Advisory Project provides that opportunity.”

Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.