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Outgoing chief economist discusses term limits, taxation, and giving advice to politicians

Feb 28, 2017

Michigan’s chief economist, Jay Wortley, is retiring after 36 years of state government service. During that time, the state has faced the triplicate challenge of a declining population, deurbanization in its major cities, and a series of employment swings in the all-important auto industry.

Jay Wortley has been Michigan's Chief Economist for the last seven years.
Credit COURTESY OF MICHIGAN DEPT. OF TREASURY

As chief economist, one of Wortley’s primary responsibilities was to accurately estimate future tax revenues based on forecasts of economic growth and recessions.

(During recessions, revenues fall as workers earn less, reducing income tax receipts; consumers spend less, reducing sales tax receipts; and, in some cases, housing prices decline, reducing property tax receipts.)

Events over the past few decades have not made Wortley’s job easy.

“The worst times were going into a recession,” he told us on Tuesday, his last day of work at the state’s treasury department. “It’s very hard to predict the timing of when you’re going to go into a recession and how deep it’s going to be. Probably the worst estimate was made in early 2007 and 2008 when we were headed into the Great Recession. And nobody anticipated it to be as severe as it was.”

Even in trying times, however, Wortley found the work of an economist enjoyable. He said that his favorite part of the job is all the “neat people [he’s] had to work with.”

At the same time, he noted that term-limits have added a new flavor of challenge to the job.

“In the past, before term limits, you had legislators that had been around a long time and understood the state’s finance structure and tax structure,” he said. “And now with term limits, you have a lot more newer people in the Legislature, and it just takes time for them to learn all the intricacies of the tax structure.”

Wortley’s replacement as chief economist will be State Budget Office staffer Eric Bussis.

Listen to our full interview with Jay Wortley above.

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