CBAs are “decision tools” that are used as part of a broader political process. As such, they may be used in concert with other sources of information to guide decision making. You have read materials that support CBA or other cost techniques as decisionmaking tools as well as several critiques of CBA. Positive aspects include:
Using cost as a measure provides a basis of comparison across projects.
If CBAs are designed well, they can incorporate effects on different political actors
CBAs can provide a mechanism for weighing tradeoffs between the present and the future and for helping governments ascertain the impact of policies and programs on their budgets
Critiques of and limitations to CBA, raised in your readings and in This Urban Institute reading on Supermax prisons, section on Limitations (Section 3.7, p.17), concern:
Efficiency as the dominant value driving CBA, versus equity or procedural justice;
The difficulty and ethics in quantifying some costs and benefits;
Missing or poor data;
Political issues: CBA’s being misused, misrepresented, subject to political pressure and influence, or used to drive a particular political perspective.
Choose one of the following two documents to review.
Ormiston, R., Belman, D., and Hinkel, M. (2018). “New York’s prevailing wage law: a cost-benefit analysis.” Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute. (also of interest for background: https://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/lweab/Raising%20NY%27s%20Minimum%20Wage%20to%20%2415%20_NYSDOL%20Feb%202016_.pdf ) OR
Indiana Department of Transportation/CDM Smith (2013). “Hoosier State Rail Service Cost Benefit Analysis.”
Drawing on CBA readings from this class, including those offering a positive view of CBA and concerning critiques or limitations to CBA, write a 2- to 3-page single-spaced memo addressed to the head of an agency or organization that would use this CBA to make a policy decision to either keep or change current policy or adopt a similar policy in another state. You don’t need to consult any sources not provided or any information about the current status of these policies. Your memo will do the following:
Adopt a role that would correspond to one perspective: that is you will pretend to write on behalf of an organization of people that is affected by the policy: e.g., Fight for 15 or an association of low-wage employers for the wage analysis; commuters or city planners for the transportation analysis. Acknowledge your policy perspective in the memo and briefly introduce your organization in the memo so your perspective is clearly framed. (The NY policy is already in place, so you may adopt the position of another state that is considering a similar policy, or could argue that the existing wage policy should be changed).
Provide a two- to three-paragraph summary of the findings (you can focus on the sections with numbers and the executive summaries). Talk about PERSPECTIVES as per our readings – which groups are affected and how; whose costs and benefits are taken into account.
Comment on the strong aspects of and limitations of the cost analysis (refer to the Vera reading on how to read a report). What costs or benefits seem appropriate or inappropriate? Why is the analysis helpful/not helpful to policymakers thinking about policy change in this jurisdiction or another one? What is missing?
Think about the politics of cost-benefit analysis (see for example the NY Times article on changes in EPA regulations and the comments on changes in Executive Orders in my video presentation). How do these politics relate to the report you are reading?
Your memo format includes a heading, 1-inch margins, 12-point font, and professional and concise language. You can use footnotes to cite any additional background or evidence for your argument. There is no specific word limit but you should be writing for a busy policymaker who barely has time to read three pages; therefore, I will be looking for your ability to make a concise, logical argument.
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