Chicago research center wants to make a mark on government finance policy

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CHICAGO – The University of Illinois at Chicago has established a new municipal research center with the aim of adding a new voice on governmental and public finance policy.

The Government Finance Research Center based at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at UIC officially opened its doors this month with an initial $1 million grant from an anonymous donor that was announced in April.

The center will bring “together the best academic minds with public and private sector experts to address the pressing fiscal issues in our communities and states, large or small,” said Michael Pagano, the college’s dean and a professor of public administration who will serve as the center’s director. “The time is now to bring public financial challenges to the forefront and discuss outcomes that combine pragmatic solutions with rigorous theory.”

The center says its goal is to “shape and inform public policy and scholarly discourse on government and public finance by identifying, planning and executing research, providing periodic reports and informed analyses, and offering venues at which to convene national and local discussion on fiscal and governmental issues.”

The goal is to evolve into a nationally recognized voice on state, municipal and regional governance and public finance policy and discourse.

Initial ideas being explored include how to help cities reinvent their fiscal planning as they grapple with competing demands of infrastructure, services, and pension obligations funded from limited tax revenue and consideration of how state governments can adopt policies that would help municipalities avoid bankruptcy.

The center plans to build on the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs’ existing partnerships with groups like the National League of Cities, the Brookings Institution, the Chicago Civic Federation, and the Government Finance Officers Association.

More than a dozen faculty members will serve on an internal advisory board to review the center’s work.

An external advisory panel will also provide guidance. The members are Anthony Clarence, executive director at the National League of Cities; Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, principals at Barrett and Green Inc.; Richard Ciccarone, president of Merritt Research Services LLC; Tracy Gordon, senior fellow at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center; and John Hicks, executive director at the National Association State Budget Officers.

Additional members are Christopher Hoene, executive director at the California Budget and Policy Center; Richard Mattoon, senior economic at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank; Chris Morrill, chief executive officer at the Government Finance Officers Association; Scott Pattison, executive director at the National Governors Association; S&P Global Ratings analyst Carol Spain; and David Vaudt, chairman of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.

The college has also partnered with MuniNet Guide. Ciccarone and restructuring expert James Spiotto are co-publishers and owners.

The center has tapped Amanda Kass to serve as associate director. She comes from University of Chicago’s Center for Municipal Finance and also previously worked at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Kass said one of her initial projects will include in-depth research on the status of hundreds of Illinois public safety pension funds and their potential use of the new intercept that allows them to divert a sponsoring municipality’s share of state collected revenues to cover overdue payments.

UIC will also host its annual Urban Forum Sept. 13 entitled “The People’s Money: Pensions, Debt and Government Services.” The co-chairs are Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis.

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