CLOSUP statewide survey: Local government leaders give low marks to state officials

March 18, 2010

Michigan's local government leaders express an alarming lack of trust in state government leaders in Lansing and significant dissatisfaction with their job performance, a new study shows.

This distrust raises questions about the potential success of state-level policy solutions that depend on local implementation, according to a new Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) by the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

The survey looked at trust in state government and evaluations of job performance for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature by local government officials statewide.

This study is the first to analyze feedback about state government officials from local leaders representing all types of general purpose local government statewide. Respondents included county administrators and board chairs, mayors and city managers, village presidents and managers, and township supervisors, clerks and managers from more than 1,300 jurisdictions statewide.

"These findings illustrate a deeply strained state-local relationship in Michigan," said Brian Jacob, who heads CLOSUP, which is located in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, "and may raise concerns about the ability of state-level officials to produce policy solutions that depend on local implementation."

More than half (53 percent) of local officials give the governor a "poor" job performance rating, although the ratings are strongly tied with political party affiliation. Seventy percent of local officials who are Republican rate the governor's performance as "poor," compared to 48 percent of Independent officials and 22 percent of Democratic officials.

Local officials give even lower marks to the Michigan Legislature, with 61 percent grading the performance as "poor" and fewer than 5 percent giving it an "excellent" or "good" rating.

The study finds that nearly half of local officials—49 percent—say they "seldom" or "almost never" trust the state government to do what is right. In comparison, only 27 percent of the state's citizens respond this way, according to opinion polling from Michigan State University.

CLOSUP officials say the survey results may not be surprising, in part, because Michigan's state government has slashed revenue sharing and shifted responsibilities to local governments through numerous unfunded mandates. These local units already face severe fiscal difficulties due to falling tax revenues and rising costs—findings that were documented in CLOSUP's first MPPS survey last spring.

In order to improve the effectiveness of Michigan's government system overall, Jacob said it is important that all Michigan stakeholders should understand that there are significant tensions in the state-local relationship and should encourage state and local officials to pursue trust-building measures.

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