Shaking Her Community to the Core
SIU senior in political science and Daily Egyptian reporter Marnie Leonard can add an impressive new byline to her clips file: author of Paper #50 of the Simon Review, May 2017, one of a series of occasional papers prepared by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
Titled, “Governor Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda from a Comparative State Policy Context,” Leonard’s paper was written during what had become a historic budget impasse in the State of Illinois—and in the nation. The state’s fiscal impasse lasted 736 days, and was the nation’s longest since the Great Depression. Leonard researched and wrote from the midst of a crisis that was shaking her community to the core.
John Jackson, one of the region’s most well-known political commentators and a visiting professor at the Institute since 2002, directed Leonard’s project as part of the Undergraduate Assistantship Program. “Marnie’s paper shows what a really focused and talented undergraduate student can accomplish. This is clearly graduate level research, and it is an example of the kinds of research opportunity an undergraduate can take advantage of at SIU.”
Leonard’s research goal was to assess the effectiveness of policies similar or identical to Rauner’s proposals which have already been implemented in other states and evaluate those outcomes as a way to inform the public about the proposals and issues at stake in the stalemate.
After researching the top seven of an initial 44 reforms favored by Governor Rauner—workers’ compensation reform, education reform, a property tax freeze, implementing term limits, pension reform, redistricting and creating local “employee empowerment zones”—and comparing these to surrounding states, what Leonard found was that “[n]one of these proposals alone appear to provide the silver bullet to fix the state’s ills.”
Findings were that while some of the governor’s policies are promising and warrant consideration, “for other reforms there is little evidence to conclude they could fix the problems they’re intended to solve, according to the governor’s plan.” In other words, some of the fixes would seem to be ideological positions, rather than workable solutions.
Though it was difficult for Leonard to finish this project on top of a course load and reporting assignments for the DE, she was eager to complete the project which she describes as “an incredible opportunity,” and one of the highlights of her undergraduate experience. Says Leonard, “I think my research helped me gain a deeper and broader theoretical understanding of these issues, while my work at the DE helped me see the impasse in practice.”
Leonard credits Jackson’s wealth of political knowledge and generosity as a mentor with her ability to complete the project. She says his open door office policy gave her the access and support she needed. Leonard estimates that he read over her 140 pages of research about four times, making helpful suggestions after each reading. Leonard’s hope for her efforts is that she was able to shed some light on the state’s financial and political problems. You can read Marnie Leonard’s paper here: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/ppi_papers/50/ .
--L. A. Brown