Recent study shows local government leaders’ discontent with Michigan state government

Governor Rick Snyder speaks at the State of the State address at the State Capitol on January 17, 2017.

Governor Rick Snyder speaks at the State of the State address at the State Capitol on January 17, 2017. Buy this photo
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Sunday, May 7, 2017 - 6:04pm

Recent survey results, conducted by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, show that a majority of local government leaders in Michigan are not satisfied with their jurisdiction’s relationship with the state government.

CLOSUP conducts, supports and fosters applied academic research to inform local, state and urban policy issues. The purpose of the program is to allow academic researchers, stakeholders and policymakers to analyze local and urban policy problems which affect our society.

Thomas Ivacko, CLOSUP program manager, explained his personal opinion of the results formed by the researchers.

“I think the findings confirm what we've suspected for a while, which is that our state-local government system in Michigan is not very healthy,” he said. “Michigan's state government has a somewhat paternalistic approach to local governments, in many ways treating them more like problem children than like partners in public service delivery.”

In the survey, 49 percent of local leaders describe their overall relationship with the state as poor or fair, while 46 percent descibe their relationship as good or excellent. 

Researchers found three factors to carry particular weight in local leaders’ assessments: local leaders’ trust in the state government, their sense of whether or not state officials value local leaders’ input and their view of communication with the state in positive or negative terms.

The survey identifies various key issues affecting many local leaders such as fear the state is taking too much authority away from local governments, as well the contested transparency of the state government. 

Ivacko believes the state government has taken away, or otherwise limited, local authority in numerous of ways.

“The state has a rather severe set of limits on local revenue options,” he said.  “Only cities can have a local income tax.  Local governments cannot have local general sales taxes, or local gas taxes. Beyond revenue issues, the state now prohibits local governments from establishing bans on plastic bags at grocery stores and similar retail shops.”

In order to improve relations with state government officials, local leaders in the report emphasized changing the way leaders communicate with one another. The report also suggests state officials ought to reach out more to local governments for feedback.

Besides improving communications, Ivacko believes ending the practice of imposing unfunded mandates on local governments and fully funding statutory revenue sharing with local governments would help to improve the relations between state and government officials. 

Several students from the Public Policy School also expressed their opinions on the results of the survey.

Public Policy senior Nia Joyner said she is very disappointed by the results of the study; however, she is not surprised.

“I interned at the ACLU of Michigan last summer and saw situations where legislators in Lansing ignored the needs and wishes of communities in Detroit metro area almost everyday,” she said. “This study certainly signals to the fact that Michigan legislators are out of touch to the real needs of the state. Any time politicians are out of touch, the policies they create will more than likely be less effective than they could be. It highlights there are deeper reasons why the state ignores certain local leaders such as misguided paternalism, selfishness or blatant ignorance.”

Public Policy senior Stephen Wallace said he believes local leaders’ voices are not being reflected in the way they should.

“When local and state leadership are not on the same accord, it is a bad thing,” he said. “It puts a strain on all those under them. There is also evidence of schisms within state leadership, specifically Governor Snyder, not listening to the local needs of constituents. It is hard to gauge the effectiveness of a local leader when their resources are limited, and the state government refuses to listen.”

Wallace said he hopes leaders who care about their constituents more than their own personal interests are elected.

“Although we do not want our local leaders to be ‘yes men’ to our state leaders, there does need to be some commonalities so we can move forward together as a whole,” he said. “My sincerest hope is that the local and state level elections put people into office whose primary concern is the citizens that elected them and not themselves.”