On Teaching Public Finance

On Monday, I started another semester teaching at the University of Baltimore. This semester, I am teaching PUAD 701 Public Administration and Public Finance, a three-credit graduate course in the Master of Public Administration program. I have about 20 students signed up, and around 80 percent come out of the MPA program. The balance comes from the Nonprofit Management and Social Entrepreneurship program, jointly offered by the College of Public Affairs and the Merrick School of Business.

The course is part of a three-course sequence, including PUAD 622 and 702, that provide the core of the budgeting and fiscal administration concentration in the MPA program.1 PUAD 622 is a traditional budgeting course and PUAD 702 is a course focusing on financial management. But PUAD 701 sits in a different place, comparatively. Here’s the official course description:

Analysis of revenue forecasting, revenue strategy, impact of inflation, taxation, “back-door” spending, pension funding, user fees and other aspects of governmental finance. Emphasis on the special characteristics of public finance in communities operating with fragmented and multilayered governmental structures.

I was in the MPA program at UB from 2005 to 2008. I took 701 in 2008; then it focused on being an intensive budgeting course, with connections to performance management. And that’s important material, and it is material I have covered when teaching 702, as part of financial management, though it gets relatively short shrift. But when I taught 701 for the first time in 2014, I drastically changed the focus to public finance. This is a course now focusing on the role of government in the economy…essentially a course in applied microeconomics.

I think it is important that we give this background to public administrators. While public administrators are not expected to be policymakers, we all know that does not reflect reality. Public administrators and managers advise policymakers, legislators, and elected officers about how programs will be implemented. And implementation is a huge piece of the policymaking process.2 So it is important that public administrators understand how their actions, policies, and programs affect the market around them. It is also important to know when appropriate and not to intervene in markets. I hope this course gives these students a flavor of this, and helps them understand how their actions affect everyday people, both for good and for bad.

Image by the University of Baltimore.

  1. Documentation on this is unavailable. But around 2006, the specialization also required PUAD 775 Intergovernmental Administration.
  2. Pressman and Wildavsky’s Implementation is the standard reference on this.