Faculty/Instructor Profiles

Faculty Profile: Professor Ronald Fisher – Expertise in Public Finance

fisherMaster of Public Policy faculty Professor Ronald Fisher has had a distinguished career during his time at Michigan State University. His professional highlights include serving as Dean of MSU’s Honors College, Chairperson of the Department of Economics, Deputy Treasurer for the State of Michigan, and as a Visiting Professor and Fellow at a number of universities and institutions in the United States and abroad. He has traveled extensively and given many presentations to share his expertise in economics, particularly government finance issues.

He has also received a number of awards, including the 2014 Stephen D. Gold Award from the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. This award recognizes outstanding achievements through contributions to “public financial management in the field of intergovernmental relations and state and local finance.”

Professor Fisher earned his Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry with high honors from Michigan State and his PhD in Economics from Brown University. His textbook State and Local Public Finance is highly regarded and used in universities across the country.

He has taught numerous courses at Michigan State. He notes, “Each class is unique because of the different set of students in that class. It is the students (rather than the course, location, time, [or] semester) that make it a favorite.”

His research has frequently focused on state and local government debt, government borrowing and infrastructure investment, and the effect of perceptions of government financial information on attitudes and behavior.

His recent article with Robert W. Wassmer, “Does Perception of Gas Tax Paid Influence Support for Funding Highway Improvements?” in Public Finance Review (2016) addressed these three issues. Fisher and Wassmer found that likely voters in both Michigan and California consistently overestimate the gasoline tax and that this affects their support for highway infrastructure investment. They recommended that proponents of investment proposals address voter misconceptions, which are a common problem for policymakers working in public finance.

Other major challenges he observes in public finance are determining suitable and effective funding systems for elementary and secondary education, achieving sufficient revenue generation at both the state and local level, and encouraging infrastructure investment. Last year, he highlighted the importance of appropriate infrastructure investment in a Detroit Free Press article addressing the role lack of such funding played in the Flint water crisis.

Professor Fisher advises public policy students to determine what their goals are and take the time to design an effective plan to reach these objectives.

Faculty/Instructor Profiles

MPP Faculty Profile: Dr. Matt Grossmann

matt-grossmann-profile-2015.jpgDr. Matt Grossmann is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Director at Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR). He received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007. His areas of interest include American public policy, interest groups, political parties, and campaigns.

His latest book, Asymmetric Politics (with David Hopkins) examines differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. He is the author and co-author of several other books and numerous peer-reviewed articles. Organizations Dr. Grossmann has done work for include the Center for Democracy and Technology, the British Parliament in London, and FairVote.

Professor Grossmann enjoys teaching courses that are closely tied to current events. These include courses related to policymaking at the beginning on new administrations or legislative sessions. He also enjoys teaching Campaigns and Elections when national elections are ongoing.

Grossmann finds that there is strong interest among the general public in the differences between the major parties and how they have changed over time.

Grossman became Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in January 2016. A few highlights of IPPSR’s work include its political training and education programs, survey research center (including the State of the State Survey), and expanding policy research. Several Masters of Public Policy students are currently working at IPPSR in different capacities.

Advice for Students

Dr. Grossmann suggests that students explore different policy areas. He recommends that they find one to develop expertise in that plays out at each level of government, but in which there are not already many experts.

He continues, “Take advantage of being in the state capital region by meeting people, going to events, and learning about ongoing policy debates.”

Students should supplement their coursework with their own readings. Grossmann suggests the website http://polisci.indiana.edu/Syllabi_project/syllabi.html as a guide for readings on parties and interest groups.

Finally, students who are developing capstone project ideas or thinking about them for next year’s Forum are encouraged to visit IPPSR’s state policy page for data.

Students can also stop by 313 Berkey each Friday at 2:30 for tea, snacks, and information about IPPSR.

Faculty/Instructor Profiles

MPP Students Gain Skills with MSU PhD candidate Katherine Harris

katieThis semester, students in Quantitative Methods II (PPL 802) will benefit from the instruction of Katie Harris. Harris is studying to receive a doctoral degree from Michigan State University’s Department of Economics. She is originally from Minneapolis and has worked as an analyst.

PPL 802 is the second course in the Master of Public Policy program’s quantitative methods sequence. In this course, students continue to develop deeper knowledge of statistical methods used in public policy research. Much of the course focuses on gaining a strong understanding of regression models. Students will undertake research projects to apply their skills to estimate policy or other effects.

“I hope they understand what information the estimates provide us and importantly, what limitations they might have in determining a causal effect,” Harris says.

These skills are an important part of understanding policy research. Students who are interested in performing their own quantitative research will build a foundation for future lessons. The quantitative methods series continues with Quantitative Methods III (PPL 803). MPP students are encouraged to take PPL 803 as an elective.


Harris recommends that students who may be interested in pursuing an economics PhD to consider the decision carefully.

“I would consult your advisors, professors and people who have economics PhDs to learn more about what an economics PhD entails and the opportunities it creates,” she says.

Harris’s fields of interest is Labor, Health and Behavioral economics. She is currently performing research that address questions of decision-making and rewards. Specifically, she is interested in “identifying whether or not individuals reward themselves for good decisions by making secondary self-indulgent decisions,” she explains. “For example, if you order a salad are you more likely to order a dessert than when you order a hamburger?”

In her spare time, Harris enjoys triathlons, hiking, snowboarding, and photography.

Courses, Faculty/Instructor Profiles

Spring PPL 891 Courses Explore Public Management and State and Local Finance

logoPPL 891 courses give Masters of Public Policy students the opportunity to explore policy issue areas in greater depth. This spring, students can choose from two sections:

Section 1, taught by Dr. Shu Wang of the Department of Political Science, deals with management in the public sector. Students will learn about the importance of everyday management and operations in government. They will explore how public managers are constrained by external factors, but also how opportunities may be found in difficult conditions.

This course is an excellent option for those with an interest in public management. Students will use case studies to relate practice to administrative theories, helping them form a better understanding of how to apply their policy knowledge to management and real world decision making.

Dr. Shu Wang received her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to public management, her research includes state and local finance, fiscal federalism, and intergovernmental relations. She has also served as a consultant and financial analyst.

Section 2, taught by Professor Ron Fisher of the Department of Economics, focuses on state and local finances in the United States. These sectors play a significant role in the national economy and fund many basic services. Students will learn more about how the local and state government systems operate and gain a greater understanding of the challenges and policy options they face.

This course is especially relevant for students interested in state and local government policy.

Professor Fisher received his PhD from Brown University. He specializes in state and local finance issues and has served as a consultant to many government bodies. He is also a former Deputy State Treasurer for Michigan and the author of the renowned text on state and local public finance.

Faculty/Instructor Profiles

MPP Students Learn from Dr. Margaret Brehm in PPL 891 – Poverty, Inequality, and the Social Safety Net

maggieBoth first- and second-year Master of Public Policy students have taken the opportunity to enroll in this semester’s PPL 891 course, Poverty, Inequality, and the Social Safety Net. Taught by Dr. Margaret Brehm, this course allows students to acquire valuable information and skills related to redistribution policy and the social welfare system.

Each MPP student takes at least two PPL 891 courses, which allow them to explore a policy topic in greater depth. Dr. Brehm’s course incorporates elements of many policy areas, including child welfare, health care, education, and wealth distribution. Poverty is a key issue covered in this course, which incorporates both economic and policy perspectives.

Students report that this course has helped them better frame their thinking about these important issues. They find the topics extremely relevant to today’s environment and to their future working in policy-related fields. Like all MPP courses, this class emphasizes applying theoretical concepts and techniques to practical policy problems.

Margaret Brehm completed her PhD in Economics in Spring 2016. Her specialty fields are labor economics, public economics, and the economics of education. She also teaches an undergraduate course, Economics of Poverty and Income Distribution.

She hopes that this course teaches students to relate what they learn in the classroom to social welfare problems. It is designed to help them make realistic and informed decisions about these policies.

The MPP program is thrilled to have Dr. Brehm teaching this course this semester as well as PPL 813 Public Finance in the spring.


Faculty/Instructor Profiles

Newest MPP Faculty Member Draws on Top-Notch Academic Training and Real-World Experience


For our first post of the New Year, we’d like to introduce you to our newest MPP faculty member: Shu Wang, who joined the MSU faculty in fall 2015.

Wang, who grew up and China and obtained her Bachelor’s in Political Science at the prestigious Renmin University of China, has since become an expert on U.S. government and public administration: she has a Master’s in Public Administration from Columbia University, an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago; she has also worked as a fiscal analyst for the Chicago Transit Authority.

Last semester Prof. Wang taught an introductory statistics course to students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program.  This semester, she’s drawing more directly on her research and work experience to teach an MPP elective about management issues in the public sector and challenges faced by public managers during fiscal distress—topics that are highly relevant to MPP students who hope to work in state and local government. “I’m really inspired to teach this class!” says Wang. “The big message I want to give out is: don’t ever underestimate the importance of the day-to-day.”

Fascinated by Federalism

Growing up in China, Wang is fascinated by drastic changes in society brought about by various policy reforms. Her parents had spent some time in Sydney, Australia when she was four, and set an example for her with their curious minds and adventurous experience. After she finished her Bachelor’s degree she decided to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. “As a nosy, curious person I wanted to find out for myself what was out there,” she says.

In the U.S., Wang found herself fascinated by the juxtaposition of Americans’ strong sense of national identity with our fragmented system of government, in which policies can vary greatly among states and municipalities, and the jurisdictions of federal, state, and local governments often overlap and even contradict one another. “The autonomy of decentralized governments, but also their limitations, is really fascinating to me,” says Wang.

Investigating Tax Avoidance by Picking up Litter

One of Wang’s most interesting academic projects prior to joining MSU’s faculty involved researching the effects of different state and local tax rates on consumption—by picking up thousands of littered cigarette packs! Wang was part of a team at the University of Illinois at Chicago that investigated the extent to which differences in cigarette-tax rates between states resulted in consumers crossing borders in pursuit of lower prices. Wang helped to supervise researchers who pick up littered packs in 36 states and recorded whether stamps affixed to them by state tax authorities corresponded to the states they were picked up in, or to others.

Wang and her colleagues estimated that the tax-avoidance rate in the states examined (the percent of cigarettes purchased in jurisdictions in lower taxes rather than in smokers’ state of residence) was as high as 25%—much higher than other, less hands-on studies that estimated about 10% avoidance in high-tax jurisdictions.  According to Wang, the two key drivers of such cross-border shopping are the difference in tax rates and the distance to a lower-rate jurisdiction. The policy implication, Wang says, is that in places like Chicago and New York City, located close to borders with states that have much lower cigarette taxes, governments might actually generate more revenue by lowering cigarette taxes (and thus losing fewer sales to retailers across the border). While Wang enjoyed this unconventional research project, it also created some unusual challenges: “At my office at UIC I still have five thousand packs that I need to get rid of because it’s a public health problem!” she says.

Proud to be a Spartan

Wang says it’s a privilege to work at MSU and for the MPP program. “This program is so highly regarded in public administration,” she says. “I feel it’s really a huge blessing that I can be here! The colleagues are wonderful, they are very collegial and I learn a lot from them. We have similar interests and there are also different takes on some issues that we can compare perspectives on.”


Wang says she also appreciates how passionate program director Prof. Valentina Balí is about the Master of Public Policy.


And Wang has lost no time in getting into the Spartan spirit: she already has Spartan outfits, a Spartan mug, eats at the cafeteria “way too much,” and even has two Spartan apps on her phone.


“Policy Affects Everyone’s Life”

Wang also has some words of encouragement for current MPP students:  “Policy affects everyone’s life, so the skills you obtain really can be applied both in the public and private sectors. Any organization with a broad, long-term vision will see the value in the skills you’ve acquired. You really have a large world out there that can utilize what you’ve gained here. All the MPP students should really be proud of themselves.”

Faculty/Instructor Profiles, Research

Michigan’s Economy, School Reform, Presidential Approval, and More: MPP Faculty Research—and Influence—Pressing Policies


Prof. Sarah Reckhow (L) recently gave a presentation on how foundation-funded research affects education policy to the American Political Science Association. Prof. Charley Ballard (R) spoke on the radio program “Current State” about Michigan’s economic outlook.

Students in Michigan State’s Master of Public Policy program have the privilege of learning from faculty who are researching and influencing some of the most important policies in Michigan and the United States.

Prof. Charley Ballard directs MSU’s quarterly State of the State Survey, the longest-running and most widely cited ongoing effort to monitor the opinions of Michigan residents on important social, political, and economic issues.  Ballard recently spoke on the public radio program Current State about how Michigan’s middle class is shrinking. But despite this fact, he says the results from the most recent survey show Michiganders are more optimistic about their finances than they’ve been in a decade. “Is Michigan’s economy back? This is a classic case of a glass that is half full and half empty,” Ballard told MSU Today. “Although the state’s economy has made big strides in the past six years, the losses of the first decade of this century were huge, and continue to resonate.”

Prof. Ballard and fellow MPP professor Paul Menchik also have worked together on two forthcoming papers (based on research that several MPP students contributed to) regarding changes in income inequality in Michigan and throughout the United States from the 1970s through the 2000s.

Prof. Ron Fisher recently published an article in the industry journal State Tax Notes about perceptions of gasoline taxes—a major issue in Michigan, where residents have repeatedly highlighted poor road quality as one of the state’s most pressing issues, but who in May also voted down a ballot proposal to raise road repair funds by increasing the sales tax.

Prof. Sarah Reckhow’s research on how politics affects philanthropist’s choices about funding K-12 education initiatives was recently highlighted in the Washington Post. She’s also currently carrying out research funded by a $277,895 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation into how foundation-funded research affects education policy; Prof.  Reckhow and two coauthors recently presented preliminary findings from this research at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

At the same conference, Prof. Charles Ostrom presented a working paper titled “Explaining Approval for Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama: A Regime Switching Model.” Ostrom and his coauthors are investigating why the relative importance of factors such as the economy, war, and scandal varies across different presidential administrations in terms of these factors’ effects on the public’s approval of the president.