What politicians consider important and what voters think is important are often two different things. It’s good to dig a little deeper from time to time to understand the public’s real priorities.
That’s what the centrist think tank The Center for Michigan did in producing “Michigan Speaks,” its effort to articulate a people’s agenda for the 2014 state elections.
Repeating a similar initiative it conducted before the 2010 state ballot, the Center interviewed a mix of 5,500 Michigan residents in 150 “community conversation” meetings, two telephone polls and an online survey to find out what they considered the most urgent state issues.
The top issues didn’t include tax cuts, the minimum wage, same-sex marriage or similar hot-button topics politicians like to talk about. Instead, four issues stood out of both broad and deep concern: fixing Michigan’s roads and infrastructure, improving educational performance, improving college affordability and intensifying the fight against poverty. All were rated as “urgent” priorities by at least 70 percent of the people interviewed.
When it comes to state finances in general, there’s no public consensus — about a third of Michiganders favor tax cuts, roughly a third want tax increases and the remaining third would like to keep things the way they are. However, the Center for Michigan found a clear mandate (71 percent in community conversations) for upgrading roads and infrastructure, with more than half saying they would be willing to pay more taxes to get the job done.
n Road funding is an issue where politicians sorely misjudged the public mood, and now they’re racing to catch up. Legislators thought they’d serve up voters an election-year tax cut to win their favor; instead, they found out voters wanted real road and highway improvement. Now Michigan legislators are in the unfamiliar position of trying to outdo each other in raising revenue in an election year.