Edited by Frank Fagan and Saul Levmore
Chapter 6: Legislative sunrises: Transitions, veiled commitments, and carbon taxes
Sunrise legislation aims to apply new rules only to transactions in the distant future, so that it postpones the consequences of lawmaking or triggers future law based on some anticipated contingency. Most good lawmaking involves immediate implementation, with perhaps a short period of transition, and sunrising is therefore remarkable. But sunrising may be a useful means of putting decisionmakers behind a veil of ignorance, as in the case of an agreement to create new federal judgeships following the next presidential election. Incomplete sunrising is more common and yet more troubling, as in the case of deficit financing; this deferral of costs combined with quick enjoyment of benefits is a recipe for inefficient legislation. On the other hand, legislation that defers benefits but allows burdens to take immediate effect may be attractive on occasion. Some proposals for dealing with climate change have this feature. There is reason to be skeptical about proposals that mismatch benefits and burdens, but in the case of climate change it is plausible that the underrepresentation of beneficiaries at the time of legislation reduces the risk that sunrising will be used to externalize costs. At its best, sunrising involves present burdens, or sunk costs, that influences future generations, who must hope that those who blazed the path knew what they were doing. Keywords: timing rules, sunrise legislation, sunset legislation, behind-the-veil lawmaking, deficit financing
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