Governor John Engler is not the only one reporting on the condition of the State of Michigan this week. Yesterday the Government Performance Project released a study that ranked Michigan among the three best states in government management a day before Engler”s State of the State Address.

This is the second set of state rankings published by the project. Michigan garnered a B-plus in 1999, but moved up this year to join Utah and Washington with an A-minus, the highest rankings given thus far. Michigan was the only state to rise to an A-minus, Utah and Washington maintained it from the 1999 study.

“Michigan has done quite well and we have recognized that,” project director Dale Jones said. “There will be other states in the country looking towards Michigan.”

“Michigan is one of the best in the nation when it comes to managing state government and getting results,” Engler said in a statement released yesterday. The ranking “reflects the concerted effort the state has made to improve the way we manage the taxpayers” money.”

The study grades state management in five different areas to form an average score. Through a partnership of Governing Magazine and the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, the report was completed using surveys, more than 1,000 interviews, and public records of state officials involved in the areas of financial management, capital management, human resources, managing for results and information technology.

States received a ranking in each category, which were then combined for an average score.

Jones said he hopes the study encourages states to take an interest in learning from each other.

“The purpose (of the study) is to help improve government performance and in turn to help citizens have a greater trust and confidence in their government,” Jones said.

The study is not meant to embarrass poorly performing states, Jones said.

“This is not a “gotcha” exercise,” he said.

Alabama ranked the lowest in both the 1999 and 2001 studies, but the state has improved from a D to a C-minus.

Engler spokeswoman Susan Shafer said the Government Performance Project is “a good resource to get a good idea on what”s working.”

But, she said, the improvement in Michigan”s management “is due to the hard work of the state employees and the initiatives set forward by the governor and enacted by the legislation.”

The A-minus ranking is still a nice pat on the back, Shafer said, and may even receive a small mention in Engler”s address tonight.

“Obviously, we”re very proud,” she said.

But not all Michigan state officials feel the rankings are accurate.

Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.) said the A-minus in information technology may be “overrated.”

“We have not been very successful in rolling out technology in this state,” Smith said, pointing to access problems in the state”s uniform government accounting system, as well as problems setting up the qualified voter file.

Michigan is also “a couple of years” behind in forming a universal computer system for child support and has been fined $38 million by the federal government, Smith said.

But Smith said the state does excel at managing money.

“The A-minus rating, if you look at the state economy and the management of the state budget, I think is deserved,” she said.

Still, Smith said she has reservations on the overall state of the state.

“If you”re just looking at dollars and cents, we do well,” she said. “If you”re looking at who”s getting stiffed we”ve created a tremendous dichotomy between the “haves” and “have-nots” if that”s the cost of an A-minus rating, I”d be happy with a B-minus.”

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