MPP Speaker Series

MPP Students Learn About Public Budgeting, Engagement From Experienced Practitioners

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Linda Teeter

Last Thursday, Master of Public Policy students attended a presentation by Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, and Linda Teeter, Executive Director of Michigan Citizen Action. Both Fleury and Teeter have extensive experience in Michigan government at multiple levels. They shared their collective experiences and insights with a special focus on the importance of public budgeting.

Throughout her presentation, Fleury emphasized how budgeting and financial issues

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Rebecca Fleury

underpin nearly all public decisions. Public finance affects all levels and types of policymaking. Financial information usually plays a key role in determining what policies are adopted and if and how they can be implemented.

As Fleury and Teeter noted, the resources available to local governments have been particularly strained in recent years. This presents a challenge to local officials as well as citizens. Both Fleury and Teeter work to increase public awareness of the budgeting and decision-making process.

fleuryteeter1Fleury considers providing relevant and accurate budgetary information to public officials one of her most important responsibilities. Although it takes place behind the scenes, this work is vital to the success of any government project.

In Battle Creek, Fleury’s financial team updates elected officials on a quarterly basis. This helps the team avoid surprises. By finding out about significant changes in earlier quarters of the year, officials and staff can better plan for future needs and make important changes. Major activities include revenue forecasting and legacy cost planning.

As an example, Fleury explained that she and her staff had determined not to presume reimbursement from the state for the loss of the personal property tax when planning the city budget. As it turned out, the City did receive reimbursement, but by not counting on this money, it was in a better financial position. She noted that planning like this involves a lot of strategic decision-making. Planning for future decisions by means of methods like reserve funding for capital investments is essential. It can also mean increasing reliance on revenue streams like the income tax.

Fleury noted that expenses related to personnel take up the biggest portion of any local budget. This is especially true for police and fire. Staffing and union negotiations are especially significant in determining local expenses.Picture1.jpg

Following Fleury’s presentation, Linda Teeter emphasized to students the importance of being involved in their communities, particularly at the local government level. However, she also emphasized the importance of being aware of state and national policies. She noted there is a great need for engagement, especially among young people.

Teeter explained how attendance at a local government meeting at first inspired her to get involved. Since then, she has worked as a Legislative Aide in the Michigan House, served three terms as a City Commissioner for Kalamazoo, and has lent her expertise to getting the public more involved in policy through MCA.

Together, Fleury and Teeter made a strong case for the importance of public finance and citizen involvement in government.

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Alumni

MPP Alumnus Profile: Cameron Mock

mockcAs Director of Fiscal Policy & Analysis for Chicago Public Schools, Cameron Mock is in a position to influence many of the District’s most important decisions. He never loses sight of the fact that his work can affect policies that shape the educational experience of hundreds of thousands of students.

His work requires him to engage with public officials at multiple levels of government. During the Chicago Public Schools’ contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, Mock was a member of the CPS bargaining team. His analyses were important for their assessment of contract proposals. Similarly, he has testified before the state’s General Assembly committees and the Chicago Board of Education about the impact of various spending and policy proposals.

Mock says that as a Masters of Public Policy student education finance “wasn’t really on [his] radar.” He was most interested in tax policy. But when he did work with education budgets, he realized how closely related education and taxes were, as well as how important education is to economic health.

Mock recalls, “Furthermore, I knew I wanted to do something where I could make the greatest difference on the most lives. It finally occurred to me that nearly everyone is invested in educational outcomes— whether someone has a child, pays taxes, or simply wants to live in a country or region with robust economic growth, it all generally comes back to how we invest resources in our education system.”

Prior to entering the MPP program, Mock completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science at Michigan State University. During this time, he interned with a state representative and later worked on the same individual’s successful campaign for the Michigan Senate.

It was during the Masters of Public Policy program that Mock developed a real passion for finance. This translated into a job as a Fiscal Analyst at the Senate Fiscal Agency, and it was there that he became involved in education finance. He credits the expertise and concern for the public good among the staff at the Fiscal Agency with giving him a strong foundation for his future career.

After moving to Chicago, Mock became Budget Manager at Illinois Governor’s Office of Management & Budget.

He explains, “In this role, I managed the Governor’s education budgets and conducted tax and fiscal analyses for him and members of his senior staff. As I grew more familiar with the intricacies of the education funding system in Illinois, I set my sights on the financial challenges that face Chicago Public Schools.”

In his previous position as Budget Manager for CPS, and now as a Director, Mock oversees the forecasting and budgeting of over $6 billion in revenues, money that Chicago’s students and schools depend on. He sees it has his duty to care for the District’s finances to ensure that students receive a sound education that will help them learn and put them on the path to future success.

Mock’s advice to policy students is to always persevere in the face of setbacks or self-doubt. As he’s illustrated, being ready to take advantage of opportunities and learning from each experience can lead to new and rewarding work.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: State Budget Director John Roberts

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The first event of this semester’s MPP speaker series offered students and faculty the opportunity to hear from State Budget Director John Roberts. Last Thursday evening, Roberts, a Michigan State alum, shared information about his current role as well as insights he has gained from his years of policy work. After serving as Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, D.C., he returned to his home state of Michigan, working first as Policy Director in the House and then as Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Snyder.

Now, as State Budget Director, Roberts oversees Michigan’s entire budget. His office is responsible for implementing the final budget and for making recommendations to the governor and the legislature during the budgetary process.

Federal Fund Information for States rates Michigan’s budgetary process as #1 in the nation.  According to FFIS, a good budgetary process “gives people confidence that their state is run in an orderly, efficient, and open manner.” Roberts shared his pride in Michigan’s high ranking, which it earned after significant efforts at streamlining and reform.

Throughout his talk, Roberts reminded the audience of the importance of affordability when making policy decisions and designing programs. He advised students to always consider future economic consequences when creating and analyzing policy.

A consistent theme running throughout Roberts’s presentation was short-term versus long-term thinking. He urged students to evaluate decisions for their long-term impact. As a strong supporter of the state’s balanced budget requirement, which Michigan shares with most other states, Roberts emphasized the importance of savings and rainy-day funds for fiscal health. He also noted how this requirement can force policy makers to make tough but necessary decisions. The topic of teacher pensions and educational expenses served as a good illustration of these types of challenges.

Roberts also discussed the timing of policy decisions and the effect of rules such as term limits on policy design and implementation. He noted how term limits can result in short-term thinking among legislators, who are also given limited time to develop expertise on key issues facing the state.

In addition, Roberts discussed the many factors that go into developing the budget. He noted how financial considerations and constraints, like revenue estimates and baseline spending needs, as well as more political decisions, like advocacy efforts and legislative priorities, affect how spending decisions are made.

His discussion of these issues and the relationships among the state and its communities and schools illustrated how complex his role, and the role of the State Budget Office’s staff, really is.

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At the conclusion of his talk, Roberts took questions from both students and faculty. Our MPP students asked insightful questions regarding a number of important issues. Given the diversity of policy interests and viewpoints, their inquiries included questions on topics like jobs, environmental issues, and education. Roberts noted that the challenges of Michigan’s demographic changes will play an important role in all of these areas. He encouraged students to consider how governments can better adapt to shrinking populations while also making long-term investments in the future.

Roberts’s discussion helped illustrate how important financial considerations are in policy. His diverse experiences in government allowed him to share valuable insights into the political and policy processes. He showed how these lessons are applicable to students who are interested in government as well as the private and non-profit sectors.

Events like Director Roberts’s visit give MPP students the opportunity to learn from professionals and other knowledgeable speakers. This presentation was an excellent start to this semester’s series.

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