After 45 years and 46 legislative sessions, 43 of them spent with the Minnesota House under seven different speakers, Bill Marx is riding into the proverbial sunset as one of the nation’s longest-serving chief fiscal analysts.
Marx, 68, got hooked on the Legislature as a House intern. “I never really left the legislative process after that,” he says. “I worked in committees, I worked in the Department of Education one legislative session, I worked for the Senate for a couple of years.”
You have to be able to be trusted by both sides ... you have to provide straightforward information and provide everybody who asks the same information. —Bill Marx
While sprawling spreadsheets have supplanted one-page, typewritten budgets, most things have stayed pretty much the same, including the need for concise communication. “One of the things I’ve always been a stickler for is: Write things in plain language,” Marx says. “Give them the best answer you can. And if you don’t have an answer, don’t make one up.”
Amid today’s political push and pull, bipartisanship is as important as ever, Marx says. “You have to be able to be trusted by both sides. To do that, you have to provide straightforward information and provide everybody who asks the same information. We listen to all of the politics and political statements—then stay out of them.”
Since 1988, Marx has commuted to the Capitol in St. Paul from a farm he owns and works with his brother in their hometown of Mazeppa, Minn., about 60 miles to the southeast. On the 250-acre spread, he raises cattle, grows various crops and lives in an earth shelter—a home built into a hillside.
Annual hiking trips in Glacier National Park are a big part of Marx’s off-the-job routine. “Except for 2020, I have been there every year since 1981,” he says. (Courtesy Bill Marx)
‘An Uncommon Kind of Way’
Katherine Schill, who started working with Marx as a fiscal analyst in 2000, says the earthen home “explains Bill in so many ways: It’s just very practical, but in an uncommon kind of way.”
Schill has participated in more than 100 all-nighters since joining Marx’s office and commends his grasp of the state’s fiscal process. “He’s like a walking encyclopedia,” she says. “He’s been a steady and very knowledgeable resource for not only Minnesota but state legislatures across the nation.”
He’s well grounded in what he does at the capitol, while at the same time working the earth on a farm. There aren’t many people you could talk to who have done both at the same time. —Arturo Pérez, NCSL
Marx worked with the National Conference of State Legislatures extensively over during his career, as president of the National Association of Legislative Fiscal Offices from 1999 to 2000 and with the Legislative Education Staff Network and several NCSL committees.
Arturo Pérez, NCSL’s director of state services, first met Marx in the early 1990s. He describes Marx as “a wealth of knowledge about the budget process and all things budget in the state of Minnesota.”
Marx’s steady, accessible style helped Pérez understand the fiscal process in Minnesota and beyond. “He’s the same individual today that I knew as a young staffer here at NCSL over 30 years ago,” Pérez says. “I wish the world was filled with folks like him.”
Pérez, who grew up in southern Texas farm country, also appreciates that Marx has his “hands in the dirt” on his farm. “He’s well grounded in what he does at the capitol, while at the same time working the earth on a farm,” Pérez says. “There aren’t many people you could talk to who have done both at the same time.”
Along with working his land, annual hiking trips in Glacier National Park are another big part of Marx’s off-the-job routine. “Except for 2020, I have been there every year since 1981,” Marx says. “I like the hiking and the access to high places—places where you can see things.”
Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelancer.