When she began her career, Holly Lyons’ late father gave her some advice: “Remember, you’re working for the people of Iowa now. Don’t let them down—and don’t waste their money.”
Lyons, who just retired after nearly 40 years at the Iowa Legislative Services Agency—most recently as director of fiscal services—took his words to heart. In December, she won the prestigious Steven D. Gold Award, which annually recognizes a person who has made a significant contribution to public financial management in the field of intergovernmental relations. The award is presented on a rotating basis by the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management, the National Tax Association and NCSL, which chose Lyons as this year’s recipient.
“There is always something new to learn, and no two budget cycles are the same, just as no two days in the state Legislature are the same.” —Holly Lyons, on retiring after 40 years at the Iowa Legislative Services Agency
Lyons didn’t really know what the Legislative Fiscal Bureau did when she landed a job there in 1984 after earning an MBA. “I researched it as best I could in those pre-modern technology days,” she says. “Ironically, I got rejected the first time around, but a month later, they had another opening, and I was offered the job on the spot. At the time, my ideal job was something that helped people—and where I could be constantly learning.”
Lyons found her calling working in state budgeting.
“There is always something new to learn, and no two budget cycles are the same, just as no two days in the state Legislature are the same,” she says. “When I first started my career, I was strictly on the budget side. As director, I became much more involved with the revenue side and found that challenging and rewarding.”
Technology has created a world with many different sources of information, and Lyons enjoyed compiling research and distilling down complex topics for lawmakers and the public.
“I truly believe that we make a difference by providing accurate information in a nonpartisan manner to legislators,” she says. “I love watching the process work, the balance of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. While I have no desire to be a decision-maker, I do like providing others with information in an understandable format so they can make informed decisions.”
As director of the Fiscal Services Division, Lyons was a dedicated mentor to her team and enjoyed helping new staff discover the budgeting process and watching them fall in love with their jobs. She also helped mentor legislative fiscal staff from across the country, serving as president of the National Association of Legislative Fiscal Offices from 2009-2010 and participating as a panelist and presenter at several of the association’s professional development meetings and webinars.
Steven D. Gold Award
The Steven D. Gold Award recognizes significant contributions to the field of public finance in intergovernmental relations. It is given annually on a rotating basis by NCSL, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management and the National Tax Association in memory of Steven D. Gold, who was an active member of all three organizations. Gold had an exemplary career as a state and local fiscal analyst and served as director of fiscal studies at NCSL. He died in 1996.
Lyons has some advice for staff just starting out.
“Be humble,” she says. “Understand that in the legislative environment, credibility can take months and years to build, but can be lost in an instant and never regained. Come to this job ready to watch and listen and eager to constantly learn. Be kind and have a sense of humor; we spend a lot of time together as a staff, especially during the session.”
In retirement, Lyons expects to miss the Iowa Legislature but looks forward to spending more time with her husband and two daughters, traveling, golfing, attending the theater, and volunteering in her community.
Erica MacKellar is a program principal in NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program.