While politicians, pundits, candidates, and the media yammer on and on about how best to help Flint, and who may or may not be doing enough — now would be a good time to take the temperature of Michigan residents on their priorities. With a substantial state budget surplus recently reported, and the annual budgetary process right around the corner, do voters really support investment in services and infrastructure?
The pressure’s on. Flint native, Congressman Dan Kildee, just put out a press release asking Gov. Snyder to earmark funds from the state’s budget surplus to aid Flint in their time of need:
“Flint residents and children deserve to hear Governor Snyder take responsibility for this man-made disaster that was created by his administration, I appreciate the federal government declaring a state of emergency, but the state must step up and do more. The state of Michigan has a $575 million budget surplus and the Governor should dedicate a portion of that money to help the victims of this terrible crisis.”
Michigan’s GOP lawmakers have been loathe to help in any serious way. But they, like the rest of the nation will be paying close attention to tomorrow night’s state of the state address from Gov. Snyder. It will likely receive more attention nationally than any previous speech from a governor in recent years. And, it won’t be the good kind of press Snyder prefers.
Over the last week we’ve also seen GOP lawmakers backpedal away from threats to legislatively punish Detroit Public School teachers over their “sickout” strikes. When both mainstream and social media exposed the squalid conditions in DPS classrooms resulting from years of cruel cut-back management under the Emergency Manager Law, Republicans grew suddenly quiet.
So, it would seem that politicians of all stripes would want to know how Michigan voters really feel about budget priorities. Once again, this is a job for nerdy public policy wonks — and anticipating the need, they’ve already done it. The University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy published results of their recent survey on this very topic just last month.
First, they asked local leaders about their spending priorities during flush financial times, then they asked them how they thought voters felt about the topic, next they conducted a simultaneous survey of the public. While Lansing officials seem to get it wrong every time, local leaders apparently have a good feel for the pulse of their communities, even though they were willing to admit they weren’t perfectly sure, they pretty much nailed it. Lansing should pay close attention to these numbers.
By a wide margin, both local leaders and voters pinned the spending tail on the services and infrastructure donkey, with every other option polling like a third-tier Republican presidential candidate. (Apologies for the low resolution of the chart — U of M should invest in a little infrastructure upgrade in its graphics department — hint.)
The looming annual budget war in Lansing will be heavily informed by the shifting political priorities of the state — priorities now closely scrutinized and judged by the rest of the nation. As is the case, every two years the entire Michigan House is up for grabs, and 2016 has many of the same factors at play which scored well for Democrats in 2008 — meaning Republican candidates may wish to think twice before running to the far right.
Politics aside, the moral imperative should rule — Flint needs and deserves the money.