Professor Phuong Nguyen is enthusiastic about teaching courses to MPA students in the UI School of Planning and Public Affairs, as he happily shares an academic background with them. “I am very excited about the MPA program because I came to UI with a public affairs background, but the program was focused on planning. I had a lot of learning to do, especially related to different planning terms and practices in the planning field. The programs complement each other, and the students are able to interact so much in their core courses.”
Professor Nguyen, the school’s Director of Graduate Studies, focuses on public finance in his research and teaching. He teaches Public Finance and Budgeting, Analytic Methods, and economic development courses and is interested in the variety of finance methods available to local, state, and federal governments.
Nguyen has recently been studying Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policy in Iowa, which has the most TIF districts in the country. “I started my job at the University of Iowa and noticed in the news that TIF was a very controversial issue for the state legislature, and I saw that there were public meetings being held about how to improve TIF laws in Iowa. At the time, there was very little research on the impact of TIF policies in Iowa, so that triggered my interest.”
Nguyen found that TIF may bring benefits to local governments, including school districts. However, he finds that TIF policies are most beneficial with certain practices in place, such as the return of excess benefits. Additionally, Nguyen posits that state-level TIF policies in Iowa should require a but-for condition, to avoid the unnecessary use of TIF in certain projects. “TIF can be a beneficial tool for planners and policymakers to address blight and economic development, but careful consideration of other applicable finance and development policies should happen first.”
Nguyen recently co-authored “Cap and Gap: The Fiscal Effects of Property Tax Levy Limits in New York,” published in the Journal of Education Finance and Policy. He explores the impact of New York’s property tax levy limit on school districts. Additionally, the study examines which expenses are cut to accommodate the expenditure gap resulting from the levy limit. He says, “My Ph.D. program was at Syracuse University in New York state, with a dissertation essay on school district finance in the state. So I was naturally intrigued by the property tax levy limit New York state started to impose on school districts in 2013.”
While this experience triggered his interest in the tax property levy limit, it would take time for the policy change to have an effect and the assessment to be meaningful. “I waited for five years to collect data displaying the effects, and then started working on the paper while at the University of Iowa.”
Additionally, Nguyen has upcoming papers regarding the use of home rule in Texas, and how cities with home rule use it to their advantage for boundary expansion and annexation. This practice may help cities decrease fiscal instability and stabilize their revenues compared to their peers without home rule.
The beginning of the MPA program in the Fall of 2020 and his research efforts have kept Nguyen quite busy. He said that the creation of an MPA program excited him due to his background. “I think it is a great addition to the program without creating harmful effects on the planning students. Students from the two programs interact, share ideas, and learn from each other.”