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Creating a Common Lexicon that Benefits the Taxpayer

Rich Ryffel


U.S. taxpayers and future generations are the beneficiaries of a unique thought leadership event I created a dozen years ago that convenes again this month at the Brookings Institution.

The Municipal Finance Conference, July 17-18 in D.C., has become the premiere venue for convening scientists and industry experts to debate research, provide insights and encourage adoption of data-based best practices in the realm of municipal finance and economic and fiscal issues affecting state and local governments.

Now in its 13th year, the conference is cosponsored by the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution, the Rosenberg Institute of Global Finance at Brandeis International Business School, the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and our Daniels School of Business. I’ll be there as co-chair and will moderate a paper session. Daniels School finance professor Sergey Chernenko will present his paper “Flow-Induced Trading: Evidence from the Daily Trading of Municipal Bond Mutual Funds.”

The idea for the conference was born in 2012, after I ran into Dan Bergstresser, an associate professor of finance at Brandeis’ business school, at a finance seminar where he presented a paper on municipal bond pricing. As the only practitioner in attendance, I asked questions that were atypical of the traditional academic seminar audience. Based on my experience as a public finance investment banker I had some unique knowledge of how the nuanced and fragmented market for municipal bonds functioned. He welcomed my questions and during a subsequent discussion, we both realized that research could be improved if more practitioners gave academics practical feedback. In turn, practitioners — elected officials and appointed budget staff — could make better, science-informed decisions if their advisors (investment bankers) had access to better research and greater confidence that the research was truly market-informed.

Over the years, the amount of research in the municipal bond space has increased, its impact on practice has broadened, and the two communities’ collaboration has deepened. Ultimately, taxpayers benefit when past practices are studied, lessons are learned and policies are amended. Optimizing public finance allows better use of taxpayer resources and more effective regulation of government finance. It creates a common lexicon that researchers and policymakers can use to communicate more effectively and drive further innovation.

The conference started with humble goals and has blossomed into an impactful event that allows two worlds to collide in ways they might not otherwise.

Rich Ryffel is executive director of business leadership and professor of practice at Purdue’s Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business. While in industry, Rich advised colleges and universities, hospitals, cities, states, airports, school districts, and corporations on financing and capital structure, and led hundreds of financings in both the taxable and tax-exempt markets. He previously worked at A.G. Edwards (now Wells Fargo Advisors), Bank of America, Edward Jones and J.P. Morgan.