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.

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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.

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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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