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The Pennsylvania Policy Database Project


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Title: The Pennsylvania Policy Database Project

The Pennsylvania Policy Database Project
  • CSG Eastern Division
  • July 31, 2006

The Pennsylvania Policy Database Project
  • The Pennsylvania Project Database Design
  • Background on the National Policy Agendas Project
  • Advantages of the National Database Over Other
  • The PA Project Compared to the National Project
  • The Pennsylvania Project Organization
  • Internet Demonstration

The National Policy Agendas Project
  • The national project was designed by political
    scientists Frank R. Baumgartner of Penn State and
    Bryan D. Jones of the University of Washington.
  • Housed at the University of Washington, the
    project has been constructed and funded over the
    last 15 years with support from the National
    Science Foundation.
  • The database allows users to integrate with a few
    mouse clicks a wide range of US government
    records, news media accounts, and public opinion
    data all coded by more than 200 major and minor
    policy topics from 1947 to the present.

Advantages of the National Project
  • The national project is a unique database that
    allows systematic study of policy development
    over long periods of time and across venues and
  • Government archives are generally organized to
    maximize information retrieval, an important
    function. Records are indexed in multiple
    categories and depend heavily on key-word search.
  • But as a result, they are not organized into
    consistent categories over time, making it
    difficult to fully understand the reasons for
    change and to recognize important patterns and
    trends. Language changes can fool key-word
    search strategies.

Advantages of the National Project
  • Comparability Over Time. The database is not
    fooled by changes in the organization of
    government agencies, legislative operations
    (e.g., the number or names of committees),
    budgets, or the language of law or policy.
  • Mutually Exclusive Categories. The database
    files each record in a single category but also
    refers researchers to related categories and
    original documents. It avoids double-counting
    policy activity.
  • Comparability Across Venues. The database allows
    researchers to trace policy activity across
    venues (committee hearings, legislation,
    executive orders, court decisions, budgets, news
    accounts, public opinion polling) and

Comparability Across Governments
  • Researchers are now constructing projects with
    similar codebooks, datasets, and decision-rules
    for the following governments
  • US (The National Project) Canada
  • European Union England
  • France Belgium
  • Denmark Pennsylvania
  • Other States?

Comparability Across Data Sets
  • US (1947-2004)
  • Congressional Hearings
  • Public Laws
  • Executive Orders
  • State of the Union Addresses
  • US Supreme Court Decisions
  • Federal Budgets
  • New York Times
  • Congressional Quarterly
  • Gallup Polls
  • PA (1979-2004)
  • Legislative Hearings
  • Acts and Bills Introduced
  • Executive Orders
  • Governors Budget Addresses
  • PA Supreme Court Decisions
  • State Budgets
  • Governors News Digests
  • Governing Magazine
  • State Polls

Some Differences in Data Sets
  • The text and history of US statutes is not
    directly accessible through the national database
  • The text and history of all PA acts and bills
    will be accessible on line through links in the
    PA database.
  • The national project abstracts a sample of New
    York Times stories, many of which are not about
    public policy.
  • The PA database abstracts a sample of stories
    from newspapers, wire services, and television
    and radio states across the state that were
    included in the daily news digests published by
    the governors press offices.

The National Policy Codebook
  • 1 Macroeconomics
  • 2 Civil Rights, Liberties
  • 3 Health
  • 4 Agriculture
  • 5 Labor, Employment, Immigration
  • 6 Education
  • 7 Environment
  • 8 Energy
  • 10 Transportation
  • 12 Law, Crime, Family
  • 13 Social Welfare
  • 14 Community Development
  • 16 Defense
  • 17 Space, Science, Technology, Communications
  • 18 Foreign Trade
  • 19 International Affairs
  • 20 Govt. Operations
  • 24 State and Local Administration

The Pennsylvania Policy Codebook
  • All major topic codes are the same, but with some
    wording changes.
  • 1 Fiscal and Economic Issues (not Macroeconomics)
  • 20 State Government Operations (not Government
  • 24 Local Government and Governance (not State
    and Local Administration)

The Pennsylvania Policy CodebookExamples of New
Minor Topics
  • 1212 Probate and Estate Law
  • 1213 Property and Real Estate Law
  • 1214 State Tort Law and Tort Law Reform
  • 1527 Regulation of Services
  • Under Major Topic 24, Local Government and
  • 2401 Counties
  • 2402 Municipalities
  • 2403 Special Districts (except school districts)
  • 2404 Governance of Multi-Purpose Special
    Districts, Agencies, or Areas
  • 2404 Local Tax and Revenue Policies

The Pennsylvania Policy CodebookFilters for
Cross-Cutting Dimensions
  • The US and PA projects code data by policy
    impact, not government structure. A bill giving
    veterans a tax break is coded 1609, veterans
    issues, not 107, state taxation.
  • In determining a code, students are trained to
    ask, Who is this bill trying to help, not what
    government agency or legislative committee will
    oversee this policy.
  • But the PA database has filters to further
    identify important cross-cutting structural and
    constituency dimensions.

The Pennsylvania Policy CodebookFilters for
Cross-Cutting Dimensions
  • These are the filters now being applied to
    abstracts of bills, resolutions, hearings, and
    news articles
  • Tax (does the bill create or change a tax)
  • Appropriations (does the bill contain an
  • Governance (does the bill create a new agency or
    change the structure or powers of governments)
  • Elderly (does the bill have provisions affecting
    senior citizens)
  • Commemorative (does the bill or resolution confer
    an honor, such as naming a facility after a
    famous person)

Examples of Filters for Cross-Cutting Dimensions
  • A bill giving veterans a tax break would be coded
    1609 for veterans issues, but the tax filter
    would be checked to indicate that it contained a
    tax change.
  • A bill changing the governing board of a mass
    transit authority would be coded 1001, mass
    transportation, not 2403, special districts, but
    the governance filter would be checked to
    indicate a change in the authoritys structure.
  • Sometimes structure is the cross-cutting policy
    issue. A bill affecting all special districts
    would be coded 2403.

The PA Database Legislative History
  • The database will aggregate all bills and
    resolutions by policy topic, along with the
    following information
  • Party of prime sponsor
  • Primary and secondary committees in each chamber
  • Progress on the floor of each chamber
  • Whether enacted, and if so, act number
  • Whether vetoed, and if so, whether overridden
  • In addition to aggregate information, the
    database will provide researchers with a link to
    the full text and history of each bill as
    displayed on the state website.

Hypothetical Example of Database Output
  • In 2003-04, 401 House bills affecting local taxes
    were introduced, 195 by Democrats and 206 by
  • Committee referrals (and reports) were Finance
    250 (9 reported) Education 105 (3), Local
    Government 56 (2).
  • 295 of the bills had provisions for the elderly
    36 affected school district governance 8 had an
  • Transcripts are available for 20 hearings on the
  • 8 bills were passed and 1 defeated by the House.
  • 7 of the bills were passed by the Senate.
  • 6 of the bills reached the governor and became

Hypothetical Example of Database Output Continued
  • In his budget message for 2003-04, the governor
    devoted 4 paragraphs to the need property tax
  • 15 percent of articles in the governors news
    digest were about property taxes many were
    editorials in support calling on the state to
    fund tax relief.
  • 27 percent of the public identified property tax
    relief as the most important issue facing
  • The PA Supreme Court ruled that current state
    school funding did not violate the constitution.

Hypothetical ExampleProperty Tax Policy-Making
Over Time
The US and PA Budget Codebooks
  • The national project presents federal budget
    authority in real and nominal dollars for more
    than 70 OMB policy categories that are consistent
    over time (back to 1947).
  • The Pennsylvania project will begin work on state
    budgets this fall with a similar goal of
    restating state spending in real and nominal
    dollars back to 1979.
  • The Pennsylvania project may also provide users
    with the ability to quickly detect differences
    between the governors proposed budget and the
    enacted budget.

Organization of the PA Project
  • The project has been funded by the Pennsylvania
    General Assembly. The plan is to complete
    construction of the database for the years
    1979-2006 by the end of 2007 and provide an
    accessible website by 2008.
  • The project is guided by three advisory
  • A bipartisan General Assembly Advisory Committee
  • A University Advisory Committee
  • A Committee of Directors of Legislative Service
    Agencies and State Record Centers

Six Universities Participate in the PA Project
  • Temple University College of Liberal Arts
    (project headquarters)
  • The Graduate School of Public and International
    Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
  • The Heinz School of Public Policy and Management,
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Penn State University, University Park
  • Penn State University, Harrisburg
  • The Fels Institute of Government, University of

Project Direction
  • Each university team is led by a faculty member
    who administers grant funds and provides general
  • Each university team also has a graduate research
    manager (GRM) who provides day-to-day direction
    to student researchers, is responsible for
    quality control, and maintains communication with
    the Temple staff.
  • Each university team includes 4 to 6 researchers
    who abstract and code records by policy area. A
    total of 27 GRMs and researchers are working this

Processing Records
  • Student researchers abstract bills, resolutions,
    hearings, and news articles. Students do not
    apply policy codes to records for which they
    created the abstract.
  • Using the policy codebook but working separately,
    two different students then code each record.
    The goal is to achieve 90 inter-coder
    reliability for major topics and 75 for minor
  • The graduate research manager checks student
    work and resolves differences in coding. The GRM
    meets with researchers each week to go over their
    work and discuss hard cases.

University Assignments
  • Although the decentralized organization of the
    project presents challenges, it also has
  • Governors news digests are not centrally
  • Governor Dick Thornburghs news digests (1979-86)
    are at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Governor Robert P. Caseys news digests (1987-94)
    are at Penn States University Park Campus.
  • News digests for the period 1995-2006 are
    archived in the Capitol complex in Harrisburg.

Benefits to State Government
  • Policy-makers and aides can more efficiently
    research recurring issues and previously-tried
  • Integration of government records, news accounts,
    and opinion data should facilitate fuller
    insights into the underlying causes and politics
    of issues.
  • Comparability with national database should
    facilitate deeper understanding of the
    inter-relationship of federal and state policies.

Benefits to State Government
  • The project is consistent with public demands for
    increased transparency in government.
  • It provides staffers and archivists with a new
    tool to respond to public inquiries.
  • The project provides a centralized index to
    different kinds of state records that are housed
    in decentralized archives, and it provides
    incentives to upgrade record-keeping efforts.

Benefits to Educators, Students, Researchers,
Journalists, and the Public
  • Provides journalists, the public, and university
    teachers, researchers, and students with free,
    web-based tools to better understand and analyze
    state politics and policies.
  • Should also be useful to teachers and researchers
    interested in federalism, public policy
    development, legislative politics, urban
    politics, local government, and comparative
    politics (the comparison of political and
    policies across national and sub-national
  • Could attract talented students into careers in
    state government (also a benefit to the state).