Here's an interview I recently did with Todd Davidson of the State Policy Network.
The Texas Legislature adopted the lowest spending growth rate limit based on population growth and inflation instead of the statute-based on a higher personal income growth rate for the upcoming two-year budget in decades. That win would likely not have occurred if it were not led by Dr. Vance Ginn, Economist, and his colleagues at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Vance and his colleagues at the Foundation shared their robust research on how to achieve a fiscally responsible budget, and the crew molded the messaging that connected with their audiences, giving lawmakers cover to pass legislation.
Vance and TPPF’s wins don't come overnight, it was a long journey that included a stint in a rock band and a hospital. I recently sat down with Vance to discuss how he developed himself into a policy leader.
Todd: Economist has not always been your job title, what started you down this path?
Vance: That’s true, in fact my title used to be drummer. Growing up in a lower income household in a rough neighborhood in the city of South Houston, the emphasis was on survival instead of education. After dealing with behavioral challenges and drumming in a rock band in my early adult years, my life’s trajectory abruptly changed when I was in a major car accident that sent me by life-flight to a hospital in Houston.
After months of prayer while recuperating from non-life threatening injuries, I started to think about my purpose. What drives me. I felt a strong conviction to help others and felt solving problems through academic research would be my purpose. This led me to be a first generation college graduate and eventually earning a doctorate degree in economics from Texas Tech University.
However, I was soon frustrated with the academic community where few people read published journal papers, making it very difficult to create real change. Fortunately, I had the privilege of being a Koch Summer Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation during my dissertation process. This experience was another tipping point in my life that directed me towards a career in public policy.
Todd: Since you started at TPPF, you have taken very specific steps to create opportunities. Tell me about what you have done.
Vance: I soon discovered that to assure abundant opportunities to influence the public debate, it was important for me to build and maintain my brand. As I built my brand, I looked around to see what seemed to work well for others. There is no perfect path. I tried many options and learned from failures along the way.
For me, I realized my doctorate degree and TPPF’s reputation for producing high quality policy research was my comparative advantage, so I built my personal brand around that.
To build and maintain my personal brand, I have created resources for others through a Facebook group “Vance Ginn Economics” and a website www.vanceginn.com. I use these resources to share my TPPF research, academic publications, and other articles on related issues.
Because of that work, I frequently get media interviews and opportunities to advise policy makers. Those opportunities to reach the public and have early conversations with policy makers cultivate the ground to advance policy reforms.
Todd: Has that work led to any significant victories?
Vance: My personal brand certainly would never be the only thing that led to a win but it has been very helpful. We have had many policy wins in Texas, mostly because of the great work of my colleagues and sister organizations. These include researching and molding the message on why the Texas Legislature should pass a budget that increases by no more than population growth plus inflation, which they did for the first time in four years in 2015. However, after that 2011 session, they increased the budget substantially more than population growth plus inflation in 2013, so there is much work to do to assure that the 2017 Legislature passes the second consecutive conservative budget, which hasn’t been done in at least two decades.
By passing a conservative budget last session, the Legislature was able to return the remaining tax revenues to Texans. This savings to taxpayers amounted to $4 billion in the form of a cut in the costly business franchise tax, relief to homeowners of rising property taxes, and elimination of other minor taxes and fees. By focusing our research on the fact that Texas had a spending problem and not a revenue problem, we were able to help achieve a more prosperous future for Texans, which is the goal.
Todd: Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose of helping others?
Vance: I do. The dynamic economic study that I wrote on eliminating the state’s business franchise tax contributed to the Legislature cutting the tax rates by 25 percent last session. There is a movement to eliminate it this session, which I estimate will generate $16 billion in new personal income and contribute to employers creating 130,000 new private sector jobs over five years above the status quo. This economic growth and government spending restraint will keep legislators from enacting another tax that restricts them from acting to satisfy their desires. It is rewarding to think of all the families helped by that reform and the many more that will be helped when this tax is eliminated.
Todd: It’s always great chatting with you, Vance. To finish up what advice would you offer to policy professionals wishing to expand their influence?
Vance: 2 things have really helped me out.
It is not only where we come from that makes us who we are today or whom we will be, but it is also what we learn along the way that helps us fulfill our hopes and dreams. Mine started rough with few positive things going for me; now I am living my dream. May you do the same by starting with why.
Ph.D. Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Blog posts are publications by the author.