Moving our cities fiscally forward: Launch of the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy

Through my lifetime, I have seen the unfortunate decline of some of our great Michigan cities, and I feel very passionately that Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is a vehicle that can help them get back on track. MSU Extension has worked with local officials for decades through programs such as training new county commissioners and developing the first formal budgeting system for county governments.

This month, MSU launches a new resource for our state to improve the fiscal health of municipalities. The MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy will advise communities and distribute important research and fiscal-health indicators for all Michigan municipalities. The center will offer fiscal sustainability workshops, customized consultancy services, applied research on municipal governance and fiscal issues, and an annual fiscal health report on each of Michigan’s cities, counties and townships.

Dr. Eric Scorsone, an MSU economist who assisted Detroit and other struggling cities, will direct the center and will advise communities and distribute important research and fiscal-health indicators for all Michigan municipalities. In the past few years, Eric and colleagues have advised governments in Detroit, Flint, Lansing and elsewhere on short- and long-term fiscal issues. The team also worked with state officials and local municipalities to help the communities navigate and move beyond emergency management.

The center had two kickoff events – Jan. 12 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing and Jan. 14 at the Miller Canfield law firm in Detroit. While I was attending Issue Identification listening sessions across the Upper Peninsula, Patrick Cudney, our associate director, represented MSU Extension in my absence. He told me that the launch events for the MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy were incredible.

Patrick said, “The level of interest and involvement from government partners at both events was fairly astounding. We had local and state elected officials, attorneys, law firms, planning agencies and organizations attending with a deep level of respect for the work that MSU Extension has been doing for many years in that arena. It felt really gratifying and was one of those proud moments in my career to see Extension and the profile of Extension’s work raised in such a way.

“To have Eric Scorsone provide leadership for that initiative is perfect. Eric is such a well-respected researcher and yet he understands the application of the research to each individual situation that Michigan communities face. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each municipality has its own challenges. By having Eric in that role, it ensures that we will have our on-campus researchers and faculty, and off-campus academic staff embedded in Michigan’s communities. They can really assess what those needs are and identify the most appropriate resources to help work with those communities to really affect change.”

Here’s a link to an MSU press release about the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy if you’d like to learn more!

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