Eileen Norcross

Eileen Norcross

  • Senior Research Fellow
  • Director for the State and Local Policy Project

Eileen Norcross is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. As director for the Mercatus Center’s State and Local Policy Project, she focuses on questions of public finance and how economic institutions support or hamper economic resiliency and civil society. She specializes in fiscal federalism and institutions, state and local government finance, public sector pensions, public administration, and economic development. She is the lead author of Ranking the States Fiscal Condition.

Her work has been cited in various media outlets, and her op-eds have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Christian Science Monitor, US News & World Report, and Forbes. She blogs on state and local policy at Neighborhood Effects.

Norcross has testified before Congress on the Community Development Block Grant program, state and local pension underfunding, municipal bankruptcy, and the use of technology to monitor stimulus funding. She has also testified on fiscal and budgetary policies in Pennsylvania, Florida, California, New Hampshire, and Montana. Her academic publications include articles in the Maryland Journal and a book chapter in The Political Economy of Hurricane Katrina and Community Rebound, edited by Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr.

Previously, Norcross was a Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC; a consultant at KPMG’s transfer-pricing division; and a research analyst with Thompson Financial Securities Data. She received both her MA in economics and her BA in economics and American history from Rutgers University.

Published Research

Eileen Norcross, Olivia Gonzalez | Jun 01, 2016
A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks each US state’s financial health based on short- and long-term debt and other key fiscal obligations, such as unfunded pen­sions and healthcare benefits.
Eileen Norcross | Jul 07, 2015
In new research for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Senior Research Fellow Eileen Norcross ranks each US state’s financial health based on short- and long-term debt and other key fiscal obligations, including unfunded pensions and health care benefits. The study, which builds on previous Mercatus research about state fiscal conditions, provides information from the states’ audited financial reports in an easily accessible format, presenting an accurate snapshot of each state’s fiscal health.
Eileen Norcross, Benjamin J. VanMetre | Apr 19, 2012
Maryland should end the SAC and instead adopt a strict mathematical rule to limit spending based on the sum of the increase in population and inflation. Such a TEL must work with other institutional reforms in order to effectively meet the goal of limiting spending as intended by the designers of Maryland’s Spending and Affordability Committee.
Eileen Norcross | Jan 13, 2011
Fiscal Year 2011 marks Maryland's third year of recession and fifth year of structural deficits. This article highlights how Maryland started on this path of fiscal instability and what the future holds if this trajectory continues.

Working Papers

Eileen Norcross | Feb 05, 2013
The sustainability of public sector pension plans is an issue of great fiscal concern for state and local governments in the United States. According to government reports, state public sector pension plans confront a total unfunded liability of $842 billion. Underfunding of this magnitude presents a serious fiscal problem for individual governments and will require a growing amount of budgetary resources to fund benefit promises to retired workers.
Eileen Norcross, Benjamin J. VanMetre | Nov 08, 2011
This working paper shows how Rhode Island’s state and municipal pension systems face large and growing unfunded pension liabilities and provides recommendations for reform.
Eileen Norcross, Benjamin J. VanMetre | Oct 11, 2011
It is important to understand that Illinois’s current fiscal crisis is not the result of a single critical event but rather a series of events in Illinois’s economic and fiscal history. This paper uncovers why Illinois's 2012 budget strategies are unlikely to work.
Eileen Norcross, Roman Hardgrave | Sep 28, 2011
This study focuses on public sector benefits costs in the state of New Jersey. Along with several other states, New Jersey’s pension system is badly underfunded and health care and other benefits for public sector workers are entirely unfunded.

Policy Briefs

Eileen Norcross | Dec 13, 2010
Recognizing the unsustainable future of current public pension plans, many state legislatures are considering pension reform. Unfortunately, most proposed reforms are insufficient to fill the funding gap because government accounting standards continue to underestimate the true…
Eileen Norcross, Johan van der Walt, Jerrod Anderson | Feb 01, 2010
Examining the interplay between federal funding and state charter schools, focusing on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and how competition in education could reform financing and outcomes.
Eileen Norcross, Emily Hamilton | Jan 25, 2010
Unemployment insurance programs in the states have been approaching insolvency for more than a decade, putting pressure on states to raise payroll taxes, cut benefits, or seek federal loans. None of…
Eileen Norcross, Frederic Sautet | Jan 2009
Instead of attempting a short-term fix of amplifying the grant system through an emergency stimulus package, the federal government should work to make state and local governments accountable for…

Testimony & Comments

Eileen Norcross | Jun 11, 2015
In this brief comment, I will focus on the correct framework to use in selecting the appropriate interest rate when valuing public pension sector liabilities. A framework based on economic principles will accurately measure the market value of these liabilities and is superior to the actuarial approach.
Eileen Norcross | Feb 09, 2011
Eileen Norcross testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the looming municipal debt crisis.
Eileen Norcross | Mar 19, 2009
This testimony was presented to the House Committee on Science and Technology on March 19, 2009.
Eileen Norcross | Aug 17, 2007

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Speeches & Presentations

Data Sets

Expert Commentary

Jun 01, 2016

The information is right in front of us, but if we don’t pay attention, we risk missing the warning signs of the next state or territorial fiscal crisis.
Jan 04, 2016

Most Ohioans would probably agree that their state’s finances are managed relatively well. According to Mercatus Center at George Mason University research, which ranks states’ fiscal health, they’re right. Ohio ranks seventh nationwide, and several of the states placed higher have the advantage of massive oil and gas revenue.
Sep 18, 2015

Some states have addressed the problem with what’s known as a “roll-back” rule, where current property tax rates are compared with an adjusted version of the property tax rates that account for the growth in property values. Instead of comparing the 2015 property tax rate to the rate posted in 2014, they recalculate what the rate would have been in 2014 by using the 2015 property values. This transparently gives voters context on the size of the property tax extraction from its base. Perhaps more revenue from property taxes is desirable, but it should be transparent to citizens, without misleading claims that politicians somehow managed to keep taxes flat and increase spending simultaneously.
Aug 30, 2015

In a new study based on states' audited financial reports, I rank New Jersey 49th out of 50 states for its fiscal health. Recently, I testified before the state Senate in Harrisburg on Pennsylvania's ranking, which is on a similar path at 41st. Fortunately, it may have time to change course by executing some of the same reforms that would help pull New Jersey out of its tailspin.
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