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Mark Haveman became executive director of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence in 2008. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Mark Haveman became executive director of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence in 2008. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Tax policy research leader has environmental roots

Name: Mark Haveman

Title: Executive director, Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence

Education: B.A., business, Calvin College; MBA, University of Michigan

Mark Haveman, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, traded one set of complicated issues for another when he transitioned from environmental policy to tax policy.

“It helped train me to look at unintended consequences, to go beyond political platitudes to try to rely on empirically based research as the foundation for public policy,” Haveman, whose MBA has a sub-concentration in environmental policy, said of his environmental experience.

Haveman joined the nonpartisan Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, then known as the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, in 2002 and became executive director in 2008.

“Minnesota has historically made extraordinary efforts to be sensitive to ability to pay across the range of taxation,” said Haveman, who writes research and educational publications on tax issues. “We get concerned when the only thing that matters is the ability to pay. There are other issues that are no less important.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. If I don’t know you, some chitchat is always nice before getting to the meat of the discussion. If people do know me then a good one-liner or something like that that makes me laugh will get the conversation going. If you want to talk Michigan football, that’s a guaranteed conversation.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. John Anderson, 1980. I found him smart, I found him thoughtful. He was independent and he was willing to challenge conventional thinking, and I respect that in politicians. Still do.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’m a big Michael Lewis fan. I just finished “The Undoing Project,” [about] the founders of behavioral economics. I’m into creative nonfiction, the John McPhee types of books, I really enjoy those.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I’m in that sweet spot of shuttling kids back and forth these days, so I’d have to say watching my kids in their various sports and other extracurricular activities.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what will you take them to see or do?

A. Grand Rapids, Mich., the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. It’s extraordinary. Frederick Meijer is a grocery magnate in the Great Lakes area, from Grand Rapids. He’s got a 175 acres of spectacular gardens and a sculpture park and a great concert venue too.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. Dan Salomone (former state revenue commissioner and former executive director of the Minnesota Taxpayers Association). His passion for good government, his passion for good policy, his commitment to education and the absolute graciousness and good humor were an inspiration to me.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. I have absolutely no idea. I think confirmation bias in the era of the internet and social media makes that a real challenge and, frankly, I’m not too optimistic about that.

Q. What was the last arts or cultural event you attended?

A. That would be a children’s theater production of “Cinderella” set in the 1950s. My daughter was Cool Girl No. 4, I believe, and she just knocked it out of the park.

Q. What is something very few people know about you?

A. I used to be a very big backpacker. I’ve done most of the Pacific Crest Trail and also did a several-hundred-mile off-trail section through the High Sierra. I did the southern Sierra to Tahoe area one year and then I did the rest to the Canadian border a few years after that. That’s the Pacific Crest Trail. The Sierra High route was like three weeks, a couple hundred miles through the major backbone of the Sierras.

Q. Is there someone at the Capitol who does a lot of work without getting a lot of credit?

A. Minnesota’s property tax system is the most complex in the nation. The number of people who truly understand all its dimensions and interactions is [small]. Steve Hinze in House Research — for all his incredible ability to answer questions about our byzantine system and respond to the legislators, to the various model runs they ask him to do — he’s a remarkable fellow.

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