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Michigan's local leaders sour on Gov. Snyder, state's direction

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan
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A day after Governor Snyder delivers his "State of the State" address, he plans to go live on the web with an "online town hall." The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. Details can be found on the Governor's Facebook page.

Fewer than half of Michigan’s local leaders are optimistic about the state’s direction, and more of those leaders have soured on Governor Snyder’s leadership.

That’s according to the latest results from a twice-yearly University of Michigan survey.

The feelings about the state’s overall direction are just slightly more pessimistic than a year ago, but down significantly from 2014, when 55% of local leaders felt good about the state’s prospects. Now, it’s 44%.

The results show optimism has dropped “precipitously” among leaders of the state’s largest communities.

“Among those who think the state is headed in the right direction, a majority of their comments explaining these beliefs focus on the state of the economy and business conditions, including lower unemployment and appropriate state budgets,” the survey’s authors wrote.

“Meanwhile, among those who think Michigan is off on the wrong track, the most common reasons given for their views relate to concerns about the relationship between the state government and local governments, most notably the crisis over Flint’s water and the role of state actors such as the Emergency Manager and state oversight agencies. Strong criticisms also center on perceived problems with revenue sharing and unfunded mandates.”

The Flint water crisis, in particular, seems to have diminished Gov. Snyder further in the eyes of local leaders.

Statewide, 41% rate his performance as either “good” or “excellent,” compared with 54% who said the same in 2015. In addition, over a quarter (26%) rate his performance as “poor,” up from 14% last year.

That doesn’t surprise Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, who has worked closely with the state through a financial emergency and other fiscal problems in the city.

She called Flint a “reflection of the whole philosophy of [Snyder’s] entire administration…[that] a bean counter in Lansing knows more about how cities should operate, and what the priorities should be, and how residents should be treated.”

“I have not seen any kind of recognition on the part of his administrations, that the priorities and concerns of the local residents make any difference at all,” Majewski said.

“I’m not at all surprised that what happened in Flint happened, because they simply don’t listen because they don’t think that our voices are legitimate.”

Susan Rowe, Mayor of the city of Wayne in western Wayne County, thinks “the state as a whole is turning around, but it’s not trickling down to the smaller communities.”

Next month, Wayne will ask voters to approve joining an authority with two other non-adjacent, Metro Detroit communities to fund public safety services.

That authority won’t involve any shared services. It’s just a way to get around state limits on local taxes, which are increasingly important as the state has continually cut local revenue sharing.

In Wayne’s case, the city also continues to face a diminished property tax base, and a loss of revenue after the state abolished a tax on industrial equipment, Rowe says.

She adds that she’s “not happy about” having to ask residents to hike their taxes, but the other option is an emergency manager for the city.

"And I blame the Governor and the legislature for that,” she said. “And I will tell you, I did vote for Gov. Snyder. I thought he could pull us through. But he hasn’t done what he promised to do.”

According to the survey, Gov. Snyder is still outperforming the Michigan legislature, which 38% of local leaders rated as “poor.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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