Michigan Speaks 2014 – A road map for Lansing

For residents across Michigan, 2014 is the year for getting back to basics. Among their most urgent demands of elected leaders:

  • Make college affordable. Too many students and families can’t afford a basic two- or four-year degree.
  • Fix roads and bridges. And not just a quick-fix, but doing it right. Even if it means more taxes.
  • Improve education and job training. Residents want schools they can be proud of, and skills that lead to jobs.
  • Do something about poverty. Too many people are seeing too many neighbors struggling.

The nonpartisan Center for Michigan’s fourth annual report, “Michigan Speaks: The Citizens’ Agenda for the 2014 Elections,” reflects the anxieties and aspirations of more than 5,500 residents from every corner of the state.

What makes the findings invaluable, not just for the men and women running for political office this year but for anyone who cares about Michigan’s future, is the breadth of opinion.

Public sentiment was collected and synthesized over a seven-month span from 166 Community Conversations in 79 cities and towns, along with two statewide polls and online versions of the community conversations. The Center’s outreach roughly reflects the state’s vast geography and its political, financial, racial and age demographics, providing a complete and nuanced view of what voters want from their leaders this election year.

And what they want, in the most unified, spanning-the-political-divide way, are roads that are not just cosmetically patched after years of neglect and a brutal winter, but remade for the long run. And, yes, in a state that is tax-averse, residents are willing to pay more for the job to be done right.

Residents also want action on schools. This year’s results seem to speak to a desire for less culture-war rhetoric on education, and more bottom-line improvement for Michigan students. Higher performance, a more pragmatic approach to skills that lead to jobs, and a college and university system that is more financially accessible to families at all income levels.

Some of the most nuanced findings are also the most interesting. Notably, Michigan residents are starkly divided on taxes. In Community Conversations, for instance, there was virtually equal support for raising taxes, lowering taxes and keeping Michigan’s tax levels where they are. And yet there was strong sentiment that Michigan needs to devote more resources to education and combating poverty, in addition to roads. One expert looked at these survey numbers and concluded that Michigan residents want something for nothing. But perhaps there’s a more benign takeaway for political leaders: work more creatively with the money on hand.

Today and Thursday, Bridge staff writers offer detailed analysis on four major issues addressed in the Center for Michigan report.

Today, Ron French and Mike Wilkinson do a deep dive into what residents are demanding on roads and how to spend public money.

On Thursday, Nancy Derringer and Chastity Pratt Dawsey break down public sentiment on quality-of-life and education issues.

For information about upcoming community and candidate engagement events related to the Michigan Speaks report, follow the Center on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page.

You can also share your insights and opinions on the Michigan Speaks report, and the Center's engagement work using hashtag #MiVoice.

With Michigan poised to elect a governor, 38 senators and 110 representatives this November, every candidate would be wise to study the report’s detailed findings on some two dozen policy, tax and spending issues. Regardless of politics, we all want a better future for Michigan.

Michigan Speaks provides a road map for getting there.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Nick Fleezanis
Tue, 05/06/2014 - 4:37pm
Do you actually believe that the gluttonous, egocentric, charlatans in Lansing will listen to what the people want? I think not! They pay attention only to the large donors and corporations that pour millions of dollars into their re-election campaign coffers! The only voice we have is at election time when we make our choice. Unfortunately to many citizens either do not vote or are ill-informed when they do. The only recourse we have is to look out for ourselves and our families and keep as much distance from the snakes in Lansing as possible. Not only are they gridlocked, they are non-transparent and self serving! They need to be made part-time, limited to any kick backs and donations and only serve one term! That is the answer to all your problems. This is not a government for and by the people. Until we make it so....look out for yourself!
Sat, 02/21/2015 - 11:10pm
your right Nick,thats why the tea party was formed.Its not a political party but rather a grassroots organization of regular taxpaying Americans who are taxed and regulated to death by our so called political leaders.The TEA stands for taxed enough already.Why dont you try to attend a meeting sometime.They are everywhere from Romeo, to St.clair Shores and everywhere in between. At least you will be with some very patriotic Americans who want the politicians know that they work for WE THE PEOPLE thanks pete
Thu, 09/10/2015 - 3:16pm
Gee, I thought they were just whores and philanderers.......
Wed, 05/07/2014 - 8:41pm
"Michigan Speaks provides a road map for getting there." Where is there, is it any different from where we’ve wanted to be a year ago, ten years ago, a generation ago? Mr. Zeman seems to think that "Michigan Speaks' has made some sort of breakthrough that sheds all partisan issues/concerns/claims, that is create some bright light at the end of a tunnel of acrimony and dis-functionality that has persisted in Lansing. I don’t know if its arrogance, dissociation from reality, or dysfunctional perception of what happens when undefined ‘good intentions’ meet the distrust of Lansing. Almost all of us are/have been for better roads, for lower cost and easier routes to a college degree, for less poverty, and better educated students. The question is how do we know what all of that will look like so we can decide what it will take to achieve it, how will we know when we have achieved success or what is being done will achieve success, how will we know what it will take to achieve those successes and if we have what it takes to pay for it, and how will we know if when we achieve success it will provide the value we have been lead to believe it will. As best I can tell Mr. Zeman is a claim this new wish list will simply happen if politicians and the rest of the public reads it. Our children worked up to three jobs during college, they lived off campus, they made their own meals, did their own housekeeping, they used second hand items (radios, lamps, bedding, etc.), they shopped sales for their food and necessities, all to save money to make their college degrees affordable. Is that what the “Michigan Speaks” and Mr. Zeman see as affordable college or are they expecting government subsidies for all who enter college, even for those who party too much to pass their classes? What are better roads and bridges, what is poverty (is simply the lowest 20% based on income), what are better educated students? Until we know how those are defined we are all using different ideas and we will not be able to come together to change anything. The definition of each issue/topic in ‘Michigan Speaks’ is to each commenter to decide what they want rather than having a clear definition that all can talk about. The lack of clarity of each issue assures that there will be conflicts as each issue is addressed. Mr. Zeman’s claims about the impact of ‘Michigan Speaks’ demonstrates a lack of experience and understanding of how people are drawn together to achieve a goal, to achieve change. The best way to use the results of ‘Michigan Speaks’ is to draw teams from the commenters to develop a definition for each issue, to identify critical elements of each issue and a description of what success on for each issue looks like, so Michigan and Lansing will have a clear understanding of what is meant when people are pressing for answers and solutions on each issue. For there to be a ‘road map’ there needs to be a clear description of where we are all going so we can arrive at the same place. What Mr. Zeman feels is a ‘road map’ is like a group of people in Monroe saying they want to go to the UP, some mean Hancock, others Paradise, still others seeing it as Iron Mountain, and some feel once they have reach St Ignace they have arrived. Just as those people have a different views of where they would be when the have competed their trip to the UP so would there be that difference of opinion on each issue. They all want to have things better but each one has a different view of what that is. This is something that Mr. Zeman fails to recognize or is purposely avoiding. We all need to be going to go to the same place not each of us going to a place we think is the best.
David Zeman
Wed, 05/07/2014 - 11:03pm
Duane, I appreciate your writing and I'm sorry about your anger. Let me be clear about what the Michigan Speaks report is, and what it is not, at least from my perspective. To me, it's an opportunity to allow people from all demographics all across Michigan to think deeply about what issues are foremost on their minds. All around us, the public is constantly being told what they think -- by the media, by online commentators, by public officials and by powerful interest groups (well meaning, and otherwise). All of these groups claim to be speaking for what the people of Michigan, or the people of the United States, want. I would challenge your assumption that it is all well known what issues enjoy broad consensus among the public. It's simply not true. And no organization that I know of in Michigan, or frankly any other state, spends as much time, cuts through as much noise, and burrows as deeply as the Center for Michigan to sort dozens of high-profile policy issues to find those nuggets of broad agreement. The process of Community Conversations supplemented by extensive polling is just as important for weeding out what issues are less of a priority for Michigan residents. If you go through the report, you will recognize plenty of issues that are being touted in Lansing as game changers yet are met with indifference when presented to, you know, actual residents. This sifting and analyzing means something. And as self-evident as many of these priorities appear to you, the process by which the Center gets to these results carries a level of integrity and credibility that actually impacts public policy in the capital. Policymakers don't plow through every last inch of our data just to be polite. They pore through it because the sentiments expressed in these reports carry authority. Respectfully, let me address your concerns that this report is short on solutions. To a degree, you're correct. We certainly don't ask residents to come together and, say, craft a comprehensive state system for supporting and evaluating teacher performance using accurate measures of student growth. That would be ridiculous. What we do, however, is try to discern which areas of education are top priorities for Michigan residents, but that is only the starting point. One of the great attributes of Bridge is our ability to devote journalistic resources to issues important to the people who live here. So it is that we routinely look to Community Conversation and polling results to drive our reporting. Which is why, if you've been reading Bridge, you might have recently stumbled upon a powerful package of stories that specifically addressed road funding policy and how much was needed to truly transform our system of roads and bridges into something Michigan can be proud of. We've launched similar projects in just the six months I've been here on evidence-based solutions to the state's troubling legacy costs, to the state's system of training and evaluating teachers, and so on. My point being, the results of these surveys are only the beginning for the Center and Bridge. The result, time after time, is exactly the kind of detailed, proven policy solutions and recommendations that you and so many others yearn for. We're not perfect, and the results of the Center's surveys aren't, either. But they are an invaluable starting point for consensus in a state too often marked by division. I hope that helps. David Zeman Editor Bridge
Thu, 05/08/2014 - 7:14pm
David, Thank you for your courtesy and effort to read and respond. I apologize, I am not angry for there is no reason to be angry. I was simply trying to challenge you to look at the opportunity the ‘community conversation’ created, to wonder if there were ways to improve such a great method for drawing the public into the conversations on issues, to see if there are ways to improve the process, and to elevate the credibility and the impact of the findings and the public contributions. Obviously, what I said was overshadowed by how I said it, which is my problem. My writing was too ‘loud’ for you to hear what I was saying. My hope was you would challenge my remarks by showing where I was wrong. I have learned that that simple approach changes the conversation, it can move it to one of learning, of sharing, and of discovering opportunities. I don’t have the answers for any of the topics in your survey, I don’t have polling ‘expertise’, but I have learned that by ignoring issues/weaknesses in ones work opens it up to questions of validity, and value. I would encourage you and those who have put in so much effort to carry out the ‘community conversations’ to take the time to do a self-assessment of the process and results, asking yourselves what are the successes, so you can ensure that they are repeated, and what are the opportunities for improvement, so the ‘community conversations’ and the survey are better each time and become something a broad audience is asking for. I apologize for distracting from the issues and the conversation. I believe that those who created and supported the ‘community conversations’ have establish something that could be a powerful tool in addressing Michigan issues.
Sat, 05/10/2014 - 7:54am
From your site map looks like you really blanketed lower Michigan but barely scraped mid, northern and upper peninsula. If you had as many bubbles north as you do south I'd bet your answers would be different. Usual opinion about what southern Michigan wants forgetting there is so much more to this state above Lansing. Get back to us when you have polled the entire state equally.
Mon, 05/12/2014 - 9:02am
Hi Karen, Thanks so much for your interest in our most recent public engagement campaign! My name is Amber DeLind, and I'm the outreach director for the Center. While I completely understand your concern, I want to explain a bit about our methodology and demographics. We take great care to ensure that the demographics of the participants in our conversations reflect the demographics of the state. Therefore, we match the number of participants and conversations in each region of the state to the percentage of Michigan's population who lives in that region. For example, about 40% of the state's population lives in southeast Michigan, thus about 40% of our conversations took place in those 6 counties. To learn more about our methodology and demographics, see pages 22-25 of our report, which you can download at thecenterformichigan.net. Thanks again!
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 1:03am
Just figure out what it'll take to thoroughly address those four issues and put it on the ballot to raise the income tax and business tax to meet that amount. I bet most Michiganders vote yes if it's done thoughtfully and respectfully.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 5:53pm
Until we elect/re-elect people to public office who are willing to buck the current political system, not much will improve in our State. I have been working as a State employee for over 20 years and can say, from an insider point of view, the top down management in government has been our undoing. What is needed is bottom up and horizontal leadership. There is a difference between management and leadership. Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things. For too long our elected officials have outsourced 3rd party government contracts to other States, as well as other Counties, had a supervisor to employee ratio nearly 3 times the Federal recommended guidelines for optimal government operations, and ignores front line employee suggestions as to how to deliver State services in a cost effective manner. Coupled with the lack of evidenced based public policy formation and lack of public inclusion in the public policy formation process, it is a wonder that anything good happens in our State. It is overdue to change politics as usual before our Great State declines any further. I applaud the staff at Bridge for the efforts in encouraging citizens involvement and education.
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 1:54am
Job well done David ! The findings are here and we cannot run away from them. We must face them and answer people's concerns, with a great deal of common sense. The only thing I would add is Michigan taxpayers are tired of ineffective policies , that is one reason why some are saying they are ready to pay more to fix those roads . Other than that, we are already paying too much at the gas pump, we are taking cuts from our paychecks , we are taking cuts from retirements funds, many of us are out of jobs and in the meantime bad roads are damaging our cars. The little savings some of us have are being swallowed by auto mechanics and auto parts dealers , meanwhile auto insurance cost is too high. So where is the money going to come from again to finance a failing road policy ? Moreover are those roads being repaired in the right manner ? How can someone "repair" a road today and less than two days later the same holes reappear ? are these construction companies immune from accountability? No elected official has summoned any of them to the senate or the House of rep. about this issue to the best of my knowledge, Why is that ? I'm wary of those who are rushing to dig into our pockets to fix problems without asking how our money is being used, and how the work is being done. Why? because you can pour billions of dollars in those roads every year but if you do not address the culture of waste, irresponsibility, overpricing, quid pro quo( something for something) and lack of a timely transparency that have produced the pitiful shape in which our road infrastructure is today you are keeping Michigan in a cycle of failure and fake hope. That is why it is time to -stop sending the same folks to Lansing, -stop this name recognition culture, set aside our comfort zone and - care about issues , elect new people who really want to make a positive impact . -Join AL GUI campaign team in Michigan senate district 13 ( Troy, Madison Heights, Royal Oak, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Clawson, Birmingham) .We need volunteers who will help us bring people out to vote in August 2014 ,then in November 2014 to win this senate seat. Email us @ ALGuiMichigan2014@gmail.comPS: AL Gui has being teaching mathematics in Michigan over 15 years both at college level and High school level combined
AL Gui
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 2:52pm
Read "has been teaching"