The following Op-Ed written by MEC Director John Austin was originally published in Bridge Magazine. For further media coverage of the Michigan Dream Restored Report, please see below.
We took inspiration from other states, facing similar fiscal and economic challenges as Michigan, but that were still managing to mobilize public will to support important investments in their own defining economic assets: $2.3 billion voted by citizens for successful new business creation and university-led innovation in Ohio ; $6 billion over 25 years for clean water, outdoors, parks and arts in Minnesota; North Carolina which has funded higher education 3 times better than in Michigan—keeping it much cheaper and more accessible for its citizen.
We wanted to know if Michigan citizens felt the same. We wanted to know if we could muster the will to do better in Michigan by these important enablers of economic opportunity.
So, through a series of statewide citizen focus groups, and a 1000 person citizen survey,we asked Michigan citizens and voters these questions: What do Michigan citizens value about this state? What do they think makes Michigan special? What is important to our economy? What condition are we in today? What are the most important priorities to make this state be what we want it to be? How would we get there? How should we pay for it?
The Michigan Dream Restored report released today (link to www.MiEconomicCenter.org) shares what we learned:
· Michigan Citizens overwhelmingly believe ‘public good” investment matters to economic growth: 64 percent of Michigan citizens believe the most important thing state government can do for job creation is to “provide quality education, good roads and transportation, good public services like safety, water, fire, park sand libraries that create an environment in which people want to live, work and run a business.” This contrasts with 29 percent who believe the most important thing state government can do is to “cut taxes for individuals and business. That’s what really creates jobs.”
· Michigan citizens have seen public goods degraded: 51 percent of citizens believe important public services (including road repair, local police and fire,quality schools and higher education, and state parks) are in worse or much worse condition today than 10 to 15 years ago.
· The Michigan “Ideal”: Shared Values of Hard Work, Family, and Great Places to Escape: "In exercises detailed in the report, citizens identify with the values of :-- “Hard work for opportunity ” like in the auto industry that drew people here, being fighters through adversity, the Great Lakes and outdoors as places to escape with family, our universities and education that provided a pathway to opportunity (for those willing to work for it), family above all, and neighborhood communities that are good places to raise families. Michigan’s “ideal” is a state that has overcome its problems and is a great place to work, play and above all raise a family.
· The Michigan Reality of Today: Michigan citizens see a significant gap between the “ideal”Michigan and the current reality. Michigan’s current reality is defined largely by hardship, anxiety and struggle. Michigan citizens also see a lot of what they value about Michigan being unavailable or degraded: The link between hard work, opportunity and jobs is not there; family members are having to leave, public safety and vital services like roads and infrastructure are in terrible condition (making neighborhoods and communities unattractive), education and higher education is not what it should be and/or out of reach. The outdoors and recreation opportunities Michigan citizens appreciate so much – as places to escape with family—are at-some risk.
· From Reality to the “Ideal”: In closing the gap between today’s reality, and the Michigan they value, citizens place urgency on a number of public good investment areas: top ranking issues included: ensuring public safety and fighting crime (66 percent saying they are urgent problems that need to be dealt with now and 27 percent more saying they are very important and should be dealt with soon); providing quality education (70 percent “now”, 22 percent “soon”); protecting Great Lakes and natural resources (66 percent “now,” 25 percent “soon”); and supporting small business and innovation (57 percent “now”, 33 percent” soon).
· Support for Public Good Investment Strategies: Michigan citizens also responded very favorably in focus groups and survey to a number of specific public investment strategies that spoke to important values and priorities: A Vital Services Fund to invest in core community services; A Pure Michigan Fund to invest in clean water, conservation and recreation, a STEM scholarship Program and a Michigan Promise Initiative to pay for college for students who worked hard and applied their talents to Michigan, and a Hatch Michigan Fund for supporting home-grown entrepreneurs – all scored an overwhelming 80% plus favorability rating in the statewide survey.
· Paying for It: In raising revenue to pay for valued public good investment strategies, a majority of Michigan citizens said they wanted “polluters to pay”taxes (70 percent strongly favor, 13 somewhat favor); taxes to be levied on extractive industries (48 percent “strongly”, 17 percent “somewhat”); an increase in sin taxes (49 percent “strongly,” 16 percent “somewhat”); and a progressive or graduated income tax (38 percent “strongly”, 25 percent“somewhat”).
These findings provide insight and beginning direction about Michigan citizen values,priorities for economic improvement, and the types of public good investment strategies (and how they might be paid for) that do have potential broad appeal.
The report tells us how we might fashion needed higher education investments to win broad public support—by “getting something back” from our investment—and rewarding hard work. It validates the broad consensus that road and infrastructure funding are an urgent priority—and tells us a bit more about how we might raise the money to get that job done. Findings also suggests we just“undersold” some of our precious Michigan assets, when legislation passed late last year levied only a modest, smaller-than-peer-states tax on mining interests to fund UP rural economic development. Michigan citizens across politics, geography, and demographics favor a robust extractive industries tax—when companies make a windfall mining our “jewels”; and particularly when the money could be used to fund “Pure Michigan”: clean water, parks, conservation land, and tourism promotion across the state.
We have more listening to do, to fine-tune what we might do to invest in Michigan, to call forth the latent, but strong support Michigan citizens have for making this state realize its promise anew. But we should all take heart that it does appear possible to summon the support to rebuild the Michigan Dream again—if we listen to what Michigan citizens care about.
Michigan Dream Restored Report in the News...
Report: Michigan residents favor public investment -- not tax cuts -- to create jobs - M Live
Tom Walsh: Vital services worse now, survey of Michiganders finds - Detroit Free Press
Report: Public supports higher taxes for core state services that foster growth-Crain's Detroit Business
Study asks MI Citizens What Tax Increases They Support- WLNS TV
John Austin: The Michigan Dream Restored - WDET
Guest column: Michigan will spend for better state - MLive.com
Michigan Economic Center report surveys attitudes toward public spending - WKAR
Stateside: What do Michigan residents think should happen to restore economy - Michigan Radio