Lawmakers frequently amend bills as they move through legislative committees. But the bills' fiscal notes are seldom updated, even though the revisions often change the legislation's financial impact, according to the report.
In 2011 and 2012, the Legislative Auditor's Office reviewed fiscal notes, finding that 32 or 143 bills passed had cost estimates that were off by more than 10 percent.
"With many fiscal notes providing grossly inaccurate estimates and many others providing no data at all, they are falling short of their goal of educating legislators and the public about how a bill will affect the state budget, individual agencies, local governments and taxpayers," according to the Center on Budget and Policy's report.
The Charleston-based nonprofit think tank also surveyed state lawmakers. More than 80 percent said fiscal notes clearly explained financial impacts less than half of the time.
The survey solicited written comments from lawmakers. One legislator likened fiscal notes to notes sent home by a teacher.
"You don't agree, but your opinion will have little effect on the punishment sure to follow," the lawmaker wrote.
Another legislator suggested that legislative leaders might benefit from a course on the proper pronunciation of "fiscal." The lawmaker wrote the state should "provide a training class to committee chairs, explaining they are 'fiscal' notes, not 'physical' notes."
The report recommends setting up an independent legislative office that would provide an unbiased review of fiscal notes. The notes also should explain how state agencies calculated the financial impact of a bill, according to the report.
"When the Legislature suspects a fiscal not is unfairly biased for or against a bill, it only serves to create distrust, making the legislative process more difficult and contentious," O'Leary said.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.