Robert Strauss wins big

Robert P. Strauss, a professor of economics and public finance in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, is the 2005 recipient of the Steven D. Gold Award for Contributions to Public Financial Management. This award was a natural one for Strauss to receive, as he has already received two Presidential pens (tokens of recognition from the President) and the U.S. Treasury?s Exceptional Service Award for his work in the sector of public finance.

This prestigious award has been given annually since 1997 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the National Tax Association (founded 1907), and the National Conference of State Legislatures. The award is given in memory of Steven D. Gold, who was a specialist in state fiscal issues.
Strauss attaches much personal significance to this award. ?Steve was a good friend of mine, and he involved me in several projects with state governments,? he said.

In an interview with The Tartan, Strauss talked about the award as well as the accomplishments that led up to it. He is appreciative of the recognition from his colleagues, and at the awards ceremony, which was held in Washington, D.C., on November 4, he was flattered when a member of the committee that selected him said that he had read his work and was impressed with it.

Strauss has received accolades not only from U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as well as from his professional peers, but from many of his students as well. One such student was CMU alumnus Nick Zitalli, who had taken Strauss? public finance course and sent an e-mail to complement Strauss on the award. Strauss commented, ?That makes teaching worthwhile, when you hear from a former student and confirm that they got a good education.?

Strauss has been active at both the federal and state levels. He was involved in the resolution of several major crises, such as New York?s financial troubles in the 1970s. He also rewrote West Virginia?s state business tax system.

He has been active in applying his expertise in public finance to Pittsburgh?s problems, which he described as being worse than New York?s past troubles. ?The raw numbers are really scary,? Strauss said. Pittsburgh was deemed ?distressed? by the state of Pennsylvania in December 2003, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. John Murray, the head of the state oversight board, said, ?We did not talk about what some people call the elephant in the room today.... We didn?t talk about 20 percent of the budget going to pay that debt service,? according to the Tribune-Review. The city of Pittsburgh has $1 billion in debt, paying interest of about $90 million annually.

Strauss has given public speeches, radio interviews, and testimony before the Pittsburgh City Council. He has offered detailed policy solutions as well as general guidelines, which can be found online at He is also very concerned about education reform in Pittsburgh public schools.

In communicating with members of the Pennsylvania state government as well as local officials, Strauss said, ?analysis and suggestions have fallen on deaf ears.? He added, ?Pittsburgh is small. It doesn?t have the political influence to get the state involved. The city is going to limp on for another five to 10 years. It will be taken advantage of by the state repeatedly. It?s unfortunate for the University, because this is where we are.?

Strauss?s appraisal of Pittsburgh?s situation is not entirely grim, however. He is becoming more hopeful as the political climate of Pittsburgh changes. Once some of the political friction is overcome, Strauss thinks that the city can make progress toward a financial recovery.