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 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.

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, 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.