After a recent speech to a gathering of community college presidents and board members from around California, I was asked if a larger legislature – I’ve proposed going from 120 to 360 members – would cost more money.

The answer: it shouldn’t. Additional members could do more of the work that staffers do, thus reducing the need for expensive staff. This would be healthy for other reasons. Committees could be reinvigorated. With more members spread over fewer committees, each member would have more time to devote to committee assignments.

I’m not sure I convinced that questioner. But now, you don’t have to take my word for it.

The state of California recognizes that adding people to the legislature – even thousands more legislators — could save money.

This recognition came via the title, summary and fiscal impact statement for an initiative filed by John Cox, a Republican originally from Illinois who now lives in San Diego.

His initiative tackles the lack of representation in California – our lawmakers represent three times more people than their counterparts in the state with the next largest districts (Texas) and ten times more than the national average – by having individual legislators represent districts the size of neighborhoods. Assembly members would represent 5,000 people and state senators would represent 10,000 each.

Yes, that would give us a legislature not of 120 people but of nearly 12,000 people. You read that right. 12,000.

Cox’s proposal would have those 12,000 neighborhood legislators elect a working committee of 120 to go to Sacramento and make laws. Lawmakers would be part-time and would be unpaid, with generous reimbursements for meals and travel.

So how much more would this massive expansion of the legislature cost us?

Nothing, according to an estimate from the department of finance and the legislative analyst.

In fact, it would save over $180 million annually.

Of course, there would be some additional county election costs – though less than the annual savings. And yes, some of that savings can be attributed to turning lawmakers into volunteers. But even if they were paid modestly, you could expand the legislature without adding to your net costs.

It’s not clear whether Cox’s proposal is going anywhere politically. And policy-wise, it would make sense to combine a larger legislature with a move to eliminate one house to introduce proportional voting into our legislative elections – so that there would be more competition (and so that Cox’s fellow Republicans would have an incentive to compete in and win such elections).

But unlike so many ideas on the ballot, Cox’s proposal would be a game-changer. And it’s also proof that game-changers don’t have to break the bank.