Economic policy expert vies for Public Policy Institute position

By Gus Bode

Whether it’s trying to stop the hemorrhaging of Arkansas jobs or helping the poorest nation in Europe get a firmer financial footing, Richard G. Sims has spent his career immersed in the analysis of economic policy.

Sims, one of four candidates vying for the position of director at the Public Policy Institute, is the director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington, D.C.

His interview with the 10-member search committee is scheduled for July 22 and 23.

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“It’s clear that since its inception the institute has established itself as a center for high-quality public service,” Sims said.

Sims declined to offer specific policy proposals because he would first want to have “extensive discussions with a broad range of institute stakeholders.”

He sees the institute as a point where academia, government, business, the community and the non-profit sector gather to participate in the public policy process.

A native of Kentucky, Sims attended Murray State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, in business and economics. He later attended the University of Kentucky, where he earned a doctorate in applied economics.

Sims has family in Kentucky and said he would “most definitely” move to Illinois if he is selected as director.

Sims joined Kentucky’s legislative research branch in the role of chief economist, where he directed economic and tax policy research.

At the request of the state legislature, Sims set up a similar research organization in Arkansas, where he also served as chief economist.

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While he was associated with the Kentucky state legislature, Sims received a call from the U.S. State Department asking him if he would be interested in setting up the Parliamentary Center for Budgetary and Financial Analysis in Moldova.

Sims thought for a few seconds.

He thought a few more seconds.

Tucked between Ukraine and Romania, the former Soviet republic is described by the CIA’s Web site as the poorest nation in Europe. After establishing its independence from Russia in 1991, Moldova appealed to the United States for assistance in establishing its economic viability.

The U.S. State Department tasked Sims with creating a legislative office to drive a series of aggressive reforms.

“We used the Congressional Budget Office as a model,” Sims said. “We created a national budget forecast and drafted legislation to reform housing, healthcare and education.”

After spending two years in Moldova, Sims returned to the United States and worked as a policy analyst, focusing on applied economic development. He directed economic policy research for the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government before becoming policy director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

“I have done substantial work on tax policy issues, particularly in the area of applied economic development,” Sims said. “As a policy professional, much of my time was spent working with policymakers and civic leaders to improve our understanding of policy issues and to improve the quality of public decision.”

Sims worked on economic impact analysis, helping communities and regions in Arkansas develop programs to create jobs. He also worked with state legislators and the governor on policy issues.

“We worked at identifying at the state level what might be inhibiting job growth,” Sims said.

Sims founded a long-term job improvement task in Arkansas force called Work Force Tomorrow, whose mission was to find common solutions to problems in job creation.

“We would involve [vocational and technical schools], community colleges and the work force to find mutually acceptable goals, objectives and methods to increase the number and quality of jobs being created,” Sims said.

Sims said job creation presents a unique problem in every region. The solutions can be complicated, and sometimes involve shifting reliance from some taxes, embracing other revenue sources and re-distributing the tax burden.

“You have to identify the problem in your area and incorporate local needs and values in solving that problem,” Sims said. “Once you’ve addressed it, you’re at least halfway toward solving it.”

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