Staff and Board

Alan Essig, Executive Director

As Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s first executive director, Alan brings a wealth of experience and understanding of state government to his role in carrying out GBPI’s mission. In addition to leading a dedicated and talented staff and board, he analyzes overall state budget proposals and revenue policy issues. Alan frequently presents economic analyses of budget and tax proposals to the Georgia State Legislature and testifies before its committees. He also regularly addresses state-wide civic groups where he presents tax reform solutions and policies, and serves on national steering committees.

Alan’s recent professional experience includes serving as a senior research associate with the Fiscal Research Center of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, as well as deputy policy director for the Georgia Governor’s Office. Alan’s experience also includes serving as a committee aide for the Georgia State Senate and Georgia House of Representatives Appropriations Committees, assistant commissioner for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, director of the Georgia State Senate Research Office, deputy director of the Budgetary Responsibility Oversight Committee, and as a legislative budget analyst for the New York State Senate Finance Committee.

Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master’s degree in public administration from the State University of New York at Albany. Georgia Trend magazine named Alan one of the 100 Most Influential Georgians in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  He has been quoted in both state and national publications such as NPR Weekend Edition, New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Savannah Morning News and Albany Herald, to name a few.



Taifa Smith Butler, Deputy Director

Taifa Smith Butler joined GBPI in 2011 as the organization’s deputy director. She provides strategic direction on public policy research and data analysis. As deputy director, Taifa leads a team of four analysts covering a wide range of policy areas including tax and economic development, health care, education and poverty.

Taifa brings more than 15 years of experience in strategic communications, public policy research and data analysis in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. Prior to joining the GBPI team, she served as the policy and communications director for Georgia Family Connection Partnership where she co-managed the Georgia KIDS COUNT project and monitored public policy and its impact on children, families and communities. Additionally, Taifa has held various positions with the Georgia Academy for Children and Youth Professionals and MBIA Muni Services/Municipal Tax Bureau Company in Philadelphia.

Taifa was an education policy fellow with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Class of 2009 Education Policy Fellowship Program, and is a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development. Taifa holds a bachelor’s in politics and economics from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s in public management and policy from the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, with a concentration in economic development and financial management.



JenniferJennifer Owens, Director of Development and Outreach

Jennifer joined the GBPI in March of 2013 to assist the organization with fund development to support and strengthen GBPI’s impact, and to conduct outreach to key policy influencers at the local and state levels. Jennifer has experience in policy research and advocacy, community organizing, strategic communication and grassroots mobilization, and fundraising.

Prior to GBPI, Jennifer served in development and policy advocacy roles for Georgia Organics, is a former director of The League of Women Voters of Georgia, and a program coordinator for The Clean Air Campaign. Jennifer has been honored as one of the youngest recipients to be awarded the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “40 Under 40” and a 2012 recipient of The Georgia Conservancy’s Longleaf Award for Excellence in Environmental Advocacy.

 FY 2016 Graphics-08


John McCosh, Director of Communications

John McCosh joined GBPI in 2012 as director of communications.  John is responsible for the organization’s external communication, including media relations, social media and event coordination. He is GBPI’s primary media contact.

Prior to joining GBPI, John was public relations manager for CredAbility, a nonprofit credit counseling service. Past experience includes more than a decade at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as an editor and reporter covering business, as well as local and state government.

John graduated from Georgia State University.



Melissa Johnson, Policy Analyst

Melissa Johnson joined GBPI in 2012 as a policy analyst responsible for analyzing Georgia budget and policy decisions in the areas of poverty reduction, social services, and workforce supports.  Within these areas, Melissa’s priorities include state and federal safety net programs, Unemployment Insurance, vocational rehabilitation programs, and child welfare programs.

Prior to GBPI, Melissa worked in policy analysis and legal roles for the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia. In those roles, Melissa evaluated the effects of proposed and recently enacted legislation on Georgia judicial councils and commissions, in addition to executing special projects. Melissa’s previous career experience also includes work in affordable housing, community development, and tax policy.   Additionally, Melissa has worked within the private sector as a management consultant for Deloitte Consulting.

Melissa holds a Juris Doctor from Emory University in addition to a MBA and Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.



Claire Suggs, Senior Education Policy Analyst

Claire joined GBPI in 2012 as a senior education policy analyst.  Her research focuses on education finance issues related to early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education in Georgia and examines the impact of education on economic growth throughout the state.

Prior to GBPI, Claire worked as a senior associate at Kronley & Associates, serving as an investigator for foundations including the  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.   She also served as a member of the strategic planning team for the Arthur Blank Foundation and as a member of the program evaluation team for foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Claire holds a master’s in public affairs from LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s in English and History from the University of Michigan.  Claire is currently working on her doctorate in education policy at the University of Georgia, College of Education.



Timothy Sweeney, Director of Health Policy

Tim has served as GBPI’s health care policy analyst since 2005. He follows Medicaid and other health policy developments in Georgia closely, documenting the affects various budget and policy proposals have on state health care programs. Tim’s research focuses on a wide variety of Georgia’s healthcare issues affecting Medicaid and PeachCare, as well as health insurance-related tax policy issues.

Prior to joining GBPI, Tim served as a senior fiscal analyst for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Arizona where he was responsible for developing enrollment and expenditure forecasts for the state’s Medicaid program, analyzing policy proposals, assessing the fiscal impact of legislation affecting state health care programs, and drafting legislative language. Tim authored “Using a Medicaid Expansion to Target Georgia’s Uninsured Adults in Poverty” and co-authored “Georgia’s Medicaid Program: A Briefing for Community Leaders”. In 2008, Tim served on the Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s selection committee for the Joseph E Greene Community Service Award.

Tim holds a master’s in public affairs from the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and a bachelor’s in mathematics and political science from the University of Oregon. Tim has been quoted in several statewide publications including the Atlanta Business Chronicle, NPR Atlanta, Athens Banner-Herald and Georgia Health News, to name a few.



Wesley Tharpe, Policy Analyst

Wesley Tharpe joined GBPI in 2011 as the tax and economic policy analyst. He tracks legislation filed in the General Assembly and compares Georgia’s practices to other states. He analyzes potential ways various tax and economic proposals could affect Georgia families and businesses. Wesley publishes reports on Georgia’s tax system and speaks often with lawmakers, advocates and the public about the state’s need for tax reform.

Wesley’s research identifies ways Georgia can boost economic growth and ensure prosperity is more widely shared. This work includes authoring GBPI’s annual State of Working Georgia publication, which is an economic snapshot of Georgia workers and families.

Prior to joining GBPI, Wesley served as a programs and communications manager for Realizing the Dream Inc., a small nonprofit working for poverty alleviation, youth development and nonviolent conflict resolution. A native of Fayetteville, Ga., he holds a master’s in public policy from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s in political science and international affairs from the University of Georgia.




Jessica Hood, Special Projects Coordinator

Jessica joined GBPI in 2009. She currently serves as the organization’s special projects coordinator, where she manages an array of program and administrative work. Prior to joining the GBPI team, Jessica served as an aid for Georgia Senator Gail Buckner and worked for the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C. She holds a bachelor’s in political science from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. Jessica is originally from Alpharetta.


Bee Nguyen, Communications Specialist

Bee Nguyen joined GBPI in 2012 and currently serves as the organization’s communications specialist, where she assists the director with communications strategy, social media, and design.  Prior to joining GBPI, Bee worked in communications at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and as a program assistant for immigrant youth at Boat People S.O.S.  She holds a master’s in public administration and a master’s in English from Georgia State University.





GBPI Board of Directors

Eliot Robinson, Board Chair
Bryan Cave LLP

Kathy Ashe, Vice Chair
Former State Legislator

Dan Ebersole, Board Treasurer
State Treasurer,  Office of the Treasurer

Dr. Brenda Hodges-Tiller, Board Secretary
HT Consulting Associates

Odessa Archibald
Region Community and Economic Development Manager

Heidi Davison
Former Mayor
City of Athens

Patricia Harris

Cathy Henson
Adjunct Professor, Education Law
Georgia State University College of Law

Russell Hinton
State Auditor, State of Georgia

J. Mac Holladay
Market Street

Steven Fox
Rogers and Hardin LLP

Ann Rosewater

Jana Leigh Thomas
Vice President and Deputy Director, Health and Social Marketing
Porter Novelli