Eileen Norcross

Eileen Norcross

  • Senior Research Fellow

Eileen Norcross is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. As lead researcher on 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 governments and finance, pensions, public administration, and economic development.

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, and she is a cofounder, with fellow Mercatus Center scholar Jerry Brito, of the website StimulusWatch.org.

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, 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, 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.
Eileen Norcross, Frederic Sautet | Sep 2009
New Jersey entered the current recession in a weakened fiscal and economic condition. The current recession is severe, but this fiscal dilemma is not new. The state has experienced structural…
Eileen Norcross, Robert H. Nelson | Feb 2009
This Mercatus Policy Series recommends that land owners form their own private organization—such as a collective neighborhood bargaining association (CNBA)—to negotiate with land developers. The…

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 Washington | 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 | 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
Eileen Norcross | Jun 29, 2006

Speeches & Presentations

Data Sets

Expert Commentary

Mar 12, 2014

Wouldn't it be great if you could just decide that your monthly cellphone bill was too high and only pay half? That might work for a while, but eventually Verizon or AT&T would turn off your phone. Municipal governments have been trying the same thing with their pension bills, and it hasn't gone well. One result is a spate of municipal bankruptcies from Rhode Island to California, including Detroit's dramatic filing last year.
Dec 05, 2013

Judge Steven Rhodes’ ruling that Detroit may reduce pensions under Chapter 9 bankruptcy now means that all parties must face a hard mathematical reality with consequences for real people: The city cannot afford to pay the benefits it has promised. Detroit’s unfunded pension liabilities are immense, at over $9 billion on a risk-free (guaranteed-to-be-paid) basis. Unfortunately, they were valued and funded incorrectly.
Dec 05, 2013

Illinois’ pension problems are big—far bigger than the $100 billion funding gap the legislature said it tackled earlier this week with a new set of reforms. The funding gap is actually double that—well over $200 billion—when calculated on a fair-market basis. Illinois is committed to fully funding the actuarial liability (and some are encouraging the system to sue the state should the government not pay it). This is one of the reasons the state is in such a hole—they are well behind on payments, and those payments are calculated based on the overly optimistic expectation that they will earn 8 percent a year on investments.
Oct 24, 2013

At least for now, municipal bankruptcy is a rare -- and headline-grabbing -- occurrence. And the cities that recently filed for Chapter 9 protection didn't end up in bankruptcy court out of the blue: They can thank economic decline, dwindling revenues and population, steep increases in labor costs, mismanagement, corruption, politics, and legal or fiscal impediments to reform for their misfortunes. Yet three recent cases -- those of Vallejo, Calif.; Central Falls, R.I.; and Detroit, Mich. -- also illustrate something that doesn't portend well for many other American cities: Government accounting dramatically underestimates the true value of pension benefits for workers.
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