Financing the Public Good


Units: 6


From the earliest days of the republic to the present, government at all levels (federal, state and local) has invested in the physical and social infrastructure that underpins our now advanced and sophisticated economy.  The resulting fiscal relationships have been controversial, with Washington spending trillions in grants and other assistance, but with conditions, or "strings" that state and local governments often find onerous and intrusive.  Furthermore, federal budget deficits are now forcing political leaders in Washington to find ways to curtail spending, with many assistance programs potentially on the chopping block and states left to enforce federal standards with less money.

This seminar examines the decisions political leaders must make to pay for the "public good."  Should highways, for example, be funded by users (through tolls), by vehicle owners (through a gasoline tax) or by all taxpayers (who benefit from highways even if they do not drive)?  Should the federal government be forcing states to implement federal standards, like raising the drinking age as a condition for receiving federal highway funds?  How will such developing technologies and behaviors as electric vehicles and ride sharing change the economics and politics of funding our transportation infrastructure?  How can the federal government balance the budget without shortchanging vital national priorities?

The seminar will focus on the tough choices policymakers face over taxation and spending at all levels of government through case studies that illustrate the issues.  Students will develop briefing papers and lead class discussions that explore how federal, state and local interests can align or collide depending on the issue. 

The seminar encourages students to improve their decision making experience over complex issues of politics and government finance, and skillsets at analyzing and explaining policy issues in a debate setting.

Learning Outcomes:

Gain an understanding of the interaction of federal, state and local government finances, incuding the effects of federal and state policy priorities on local issues.

Gain an understanding of how governments at all levels match policy priorities with available sources of funding.

Through case studies, develop analytical, presentation and decision-making skills based on real-life situations that involve a complex mixture of multiple disciplines (e.g., finance, economics, law, politics, technology, sociology, history).

Prerequisites Description:

No academic course prerequisites.  A boundless curiosity, a respect for others and a willingness to stand up for one's opinions are expected in this seminar.