Several state legislatures on the chopping block

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March 8, 2011

By Tyler Millhouse

In the face of present deficits and looming liabilities, many states are looking to trim programs and reduce waste. However, several states are considering measures that would reduce the size of state legislatures in order to save funds and improve efficiency.[1] Of course, these measures come at the cost of reducing representation and combining diverse local communities into single districts. Regardless, states have a special opportunity in 2011 to combine these efforts with 2010 Census redistricting, avoiding an additional round of contentious remapping. The following states are considering reducing the size of their state legislatures:

  • Kansas: Sen. Chris Steineger (R) has introduced a bill, SB203, to reduce the number of state senators from 40 to 30 and the number of state representatives from 125 to 90.[1]
  • Nebraska: Cedar Rapids Senator Kate Sullivan introduced a bill, LB 195, to add a Senate seat, taking advantage of a law that allows the chamber to cap out at 50 members. A competing bill, LB 233, would cut the number of seats from 49 down to 45.[4][5]

Others states are considering different options. Intended to increase efficiency or improve representation, these plans range from reducing the number of counties to creating single member districts. States considering alternative plans include:

  • Kansas: The Senate Ways and Means Committee introduced legislation that would reduce the number of Kansas counties from 105 to 23. The bill, championed by Sen. Chris Steineger (R), is designed to strengthen counties and improve efficiency. A Wichita State University study has found that such a consolidation could result in hundreds of millions in yearly savings.[6]

While changes to to the structure of state representation seem drastic, they are far from unprecedented. Most notably, Nebraska eliminated an entire chamber during the Great Depression to save scarce revenue, remaining unicameral since. A number of such changes were also made in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, Idaho, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wyoming reduced the size of their legislatures. While it seems unlikely that legislators will vote to jeopardize their own jobs, the desire to streamline the legislative process and right state budgets may win the day. Still, many worry that the changes, fiscally sound or otherwise, will increase the role of full-time politicians and decrease true community representation.[1]

State representation around the country

The states below have the highest ratio of senators to residents in the nation. In other words, each senator represents the small contingent of voters. Although residents of smaller states tend to enjoy higher representation because of their lower populations, states like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Dakota also have large chambers in absolute terms.

Top Five States by Senate Representation
State Population Senators Pop./Senator
North Dakota 672,591 47 14,310
Wyoming 563,626 30 18,788
Montana 989,415 50 19,788
Vermont 625,741 30 20,858
South Dakota 814,180 35 23,262

Top Five States by House Representation
State Population Representatives Pop./Rep.
New Hampshire 1,316,470 400 3,291
Vermont 625,741 150 4,172
North Dakota 672,591 94 7,155
Maine 1,328,361 153 8,682
Wyoming 563,626 60 9,394

Chamber membership around the nation

The following states have the largest legislatures in absolute terms. Although the size of state chambers tracks loosely with state population, both Mississippi and New Hampshire are among the nation's smaller states.

Top Five States by Senate Membership
State Population Senators
Minnesota 5,303,925 67
New York 19,378,102 62
Illinois 12,830,632 59
Georgia 9,687,653 56
Mississippi 2,967,297 52

Top Five States by House Membership
State Population Representatives
New Hampshire 1,316,470 400
Pennsylvania 12,702,379 203
Georgia 9,687,653 180
Missouri 5,988,927 163
Massachusetts 6,547,629 160

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