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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 19, 2016
Voters to State Government: Help Our Cities
Michigan voters want their lawmakers to do more to help our state’s cities, according to a new poll conducted over the summer for the Michigan Municipal League by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA.
Informed that U.S. Census data shows Michigan is the only state in the nation where cities suffered a loss of revenue over the last 15 years, 48 percent of voters said their local government has too little funding to provide high quality local services to residents.
When told of revenue sharing cuts in the last decade, 65 percent of voters said they disapproved (41 percent strongly disapproved) of the decisions by governors and lawmakers to cut revenue sharing to balance the state budget.
And a majority of those polled—52 percent—said they were willing to pay higher taxes to maintain local services, while 39 percent said we should keep local taxes as low as possible.
The results mirror the concerns of local government officials surveyed by the University of Michigan’s Michigan Public Policy Survey, part of the University’s Center for Local State and Urban Policy. Asked if the state’s system of funding local government is broken and needs significant reform, 64 percent said yes—including a majority of both GOP and Democratic local leaders. Only 23 percent said they believe they will be able improve or expand services in the future under the current system, according to the report released last week
“These poll results show voters are tired of the state balancing its budget on the backs of local governments,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, president of the Michigan Municipal League. “People recognize that local governments are having trouble meeting residents’ needs for safety, recreation and economic development because of decisions made in Lansing. And local leaders know we cannot restore services to a level people expect due to the state’s current policies.”
The survey of 600 likely voters statewide was conducted July 23 through July 27, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
While voters want state government to do more to help cities, they also recognize state services are not faring well. A plurality of Michigan voters rate basic state services as only fair or poor (20 percent poor, 36 percent only fair, 37 percent pretty good, 4 percent excellent), and 40 percent say they have gotten worse over the past decade (21 percent gotten a lot worse, 19 percent somewhat worse, 41 percent stayed about the same, 11 percent improved somewhat and 3 percent improved a lot).
“The data clearly shows the effect of putting the state bureaucracy ahead of local services like public safety and parks. Raiding funds that were intended for local government has created a fiscal hole many communities are struggling to escape,” said Tony Minghine, chief operating officer for the League. “Exacerbating the problem are state policies that prevent local governments from having local options to raise revenue as a way of improving local services. We need the state to either help cities, or get out of the way.”
A recent Senate Fiscal Agency report looking at revenue sharing distributions demonstrates how state policies are punishing cities. It states that “constitutional revenue sharing payments to cities, villages, and townships are projected to decline by 0.7 percent in FY 2015-16 and then increase by 1.6 percent to $757.9 million in FY 2016-17,” to $1.005 billion. At the same time, the Legislature’s budget starting in October will go up 4 percent and the Secretary of State’s budget will go up 8.3 percent, five times more than the revenue sharing increase. The Attorney General’s budget increase, at 14.2 percent, will be nearly nine times larger than what local governments will get.
Worse is the way the revenues were distributed, with most townships getting a 1.6 percent increase, while troubled cities got much less. Benton Harbor received a 0.8 percent increase; Flint 0.9 percent; and Detroit, just 0.4 percent.
“Our state cannot regain its prosperity without our major cities getting back on track. And voters are saying they want the state to help our cities, not continue to limit their ability to provide good services to their citizens,” said Dan Gilmartin, League CEO and executive director. “This poll helps bolster our arguments for a substantial revision of state policies dealing with municipal finance.”
Results of key questions in the League poll:
Based on what you know or have heard or read about this issue, do you approve or disapprove of the decision by the governor and state legislature to cut state revenue sharing funding for local governments to balance the state budget, and protect other state budget priorities?
U.S. Census data shows our state is the only one in the nation where cities suffered a loss of revenue over the last 15 years. Thinking about your community, do you think the city, village or township where you live has too much, too little, or about the right amount of funding it needs to provide quality local services to its residents?
Which of the following two statements comes closer to your view about the city, village or township where you live?
Thinking about the primary services funded and provided by state government, including K-12 education, higher education, corrections and the state prison system, environmental protection, state roads, parks, state police, and the legislative and judicial branches of state government, overall, how would you rate the quality of services provided by state government? Would you offer a positive rating of excellent or pretty good, or a negative rating of only fair or poor?
Would you say that over the past 10 years, the quality of the services provided by state government has improved, gotten worse or remained about the same.
For additional information, contact Matt Bach, Michigan Municipal League media relations director, at firstname.lastname@example.org and (734) 669-6317.
Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at mml.org.