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October 27, 2010

Michigan’s Gary Olson Receives Prestigious National Award

Olson is honored with the Steven D. Gold award for his fiscal work in state legislatures. 

For over three decades, Gary Olson has been playing the role of a weatherman, banker, fortune teller and mediator.

As an economist and director of the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, Olson has had to forecast the economy, revenues and the size of the deficit for some 30 years, and then guide senators to a balanced budget option and evaluate proposals from the governor.

For his actions and leadership, Gary Olson has been honored with one of the most prestigious awards in this profession, the Steven D. Gold Award. This award “honors professionals who have made significant contributions to state and local fiscal policy and whose work reflects Steve Gold’s remarkable ability to span the interests of scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and advocates with integrity and evenhandedness.”

“I had the utmost respect for Steve. He was certainly a leader on state and local fiscal policy. This award will be a great way to end my career," says Gary Olson, economist and director of the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

Steven Gold was one of the nation’s foremost experts on state fiscal policy and was the director of fiscal studies at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Gold left NCSL to direct the Center for the Study of the States at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York in Albany, and then to the Urban Institute in 1996 to co-direct a $22 million project on “New Federalism.” In 1996, just eight months after he joined the Urban Institute, Gold died of cancer at 52. He loved fiscal policy and had the ability to communicate the most arcane and complex economic ideas easily and understandably. His life and work became the inspiration for an award to celebrate his legacy.

"Gary's work and contributions are definitely in the tradition of Steve Gold, who provided assistance to so many legislators and staff, and he is a worthy recipient of this award," said William T. Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Olson and Gold met in 1982 and had an enduring friendship and collaboration that spanned more than a decade. Olson says he became a better staff person from what he learned through working with Steve Gold. 

“In people like Steve you have someone with knowledge who says, this is good policy, take it back home. I certainly learned some of that in my degrees in college, but my real world learning came more through interactions with people like Steve,” said Olson.

Olson is retiring from his work with the Michigan Legislature after the November 2010 election, in which 29 of 38 Michigan senators will be new. Olson has worked for the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency for more than 30 years, 20 as director. It is one of the country’s most respected and influential fiscal agencies in a state whose economic woes are legendary. During his tenure, Olson also was president of the National Association of Fiscal Officers and staff chair of NCSL, where he spearheaded an initiative to involve more minority legislative staff in the organization.

"All organizations struggle with this same issue," said Olson, "so it was the one thing I would say I was proudest of.”

The Steven D. Gold Award is given annually by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Tax Association and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, three organizations to which Gold devoted much time and energy.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.