Michigan has important choices to make this November. We will elect a governor and lieutenant governor, all 38 state senators, and all 110 state representatives. We will decide who will best represent us and our communities in Lansing.
Over the past seven months, the Center for Michigan has once again engaged thousands of Michigan residents from across the state and asked: What issues do you want candidates to address on the campaign trail – and in the state capitol, once elected?
This report presents a to-do list for candidates from their potential constituents. Candidates seeking the surest path to representing the needs of Michigan residents can find it within these pages. Michigan residents have identified several key issues that stand in the way of our state’s success, and have provided some suggestions for addressing these problems.
This is a citizens’ agenda, the deliberative product of more than 5,500 diverse Michigan residents who came together in 166 Community Conversations, two large-sample polls, and an online version of the conversation from late September 2013 through early April 2014. The Center for Michigan is the state’s nonprofit, nonpartisan citizenship company. We call forth and amplify citizen attitudes and priorities and bring them into the halls of power. This work—and the resulting report—is not idle chatter; it will help frame the debate during the campaign, help voters make sensible and far-sighted choices when they cast their ballots, and provide a road map of citizen priorities when our new leaders take office in January 2015.
This report is the outcome of the largest continuing public engagement activity in Michigan history. For a full description of where we went, who participated, and our methodology for gathering public opinion, see pages 22-25 of this report.
Four-point citizens’ agenda for Michigan
In 2014, we find a clear public mandate to:
- Invest in roads, bridges and infrastructure. Residents are willing to pay more for it. We list this issue first because it is front and center in our state capitol. State leaders have debated road funding and fixes for most of the past three years. The message from the majority of Michigan residents is clear – it is an “urgent” priority to fix the roads. And the majority of state residents are willing to pay more to accomplish this.
- Intensify education and job training. Improve PreK-12 Student Performance. Increase high school completion rates. Michigan’s education results continue to lag behind other states. State residents want better. They say the state’s economic fortunes largely depend on doing so.
- Improve college affordability. Michigan residents fear the increasing costs of college and the long-term economic consequences of growing student debt.
- Decrease poverty. More than any other quality of life issue, Michigan residents say poverty needs urgent attention. It’s not just people living in poverty who say so. Poverty is a consistent urgent concern across every demographic group we measured. Solutions, however, are much less clear than public sentiment.
Those four main themes rose to the top when we asked the public to weigh 18 high-profile policy strategies and political themes likely to echo across Michigan in this campaign year. Pages 4-17 of this report present the public’s 2014 policy priorities in greater detail.
The new normal: Status quo on most overall taxing
We also asked statewide residents to weigh in on public money issues – and those findings are detailed on pages 15-17. In short, the people of Michigan are signaling a “New Normal” – a sort of murky standoff on taxing and spending issues. They’re willing to pay more taxes for road repairs. Otherwise, there is no consensus on what to do about overall taxation levels. State leaders who would cut taxes further do not have a public mandate to do so. State leaders who would raise taxes to spend more on public services also do not have a public mandate to do so. Given this impasse on public money, innovative solutions will be required to address the urgent citizen priorities outlined in this report.
Mood of Michigan
Michigan residents are feeling somewhat optimistic about our state and its future. Sixty percent of both conversation and poll participants say they feel either “good” or “great” about Michigan right now.
Furthermore, Michigan residents believe things have gotten a bit better for our state over the past four years. Half of Community Conversation participants and 40 percent of those polled say Michigan is at least a slightly better place to live and work than it was four years ago. Fewer than 30 percent of all participants say Michigan is a worse place to live and work than it was four years ago.
And when looking to the future, many Michigan residents express cautious optimism. Solid majorities of conversation and poll participants (63 percent and 55 percent, respectively) say they think Michigan will be at least a slightly better place to live and work in the next four years.
Unemployed and low-income residents are significantly more pessimistic about Michigan’s past, present and future living conditions. African Americans are somewhat more pessimistic. Whites and higher-income participants are more optimistic about Michigan’s current state and future outlook.
Different daily realities for different groups
Results of Community Conversations and phone polls suggest that not all Michigan residents are experiencing improved quality of life in our state. African Americans and low-income residents are feeling the least well-served by society today and are most urgently seeking change. The Center measured average “urgency” levels across 18 policy priorities, as voted upon by conversation and poll participants. A majority of African American and a majority of low-income participants deem every education policy issue included in the discussion an “urgent” priority, as well as increasing the minimum wage, revitalizing cities, improving public safety, improving public health, and decreasing poverty. Candidates for state leadership need to recognize the different daily realities that exist for various groups of our state’s population, and make decisions that benefit all state residents.
Next steps, how to engage, and how we developed this report
As the Center releases this report and prepares to amplify these citizen priorities throughout this campaign year, we welcome all concerned citizens to join us.
First, we invite all Michigan residents and political candidates to take time to digest this full report and its findings.
‘What you can do’ outlines numerous ways citizens can get most involved in these issues in this important election year.
‘Demographics’ explain who participated in the public engagement campaign leading to this report and our methodology.
A final word of thanks
The Center for Michigan’s public engagement work would not be possible without the generous support of the foundations, corporations, and individuals listed on page 27. Thank you.
And thank you to the more than 5,500 people who volunteered their time to share their priorities, needs, hopes, and ideas for Michigan’s future. This citizens’ agenda belongs to you.