By Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press
Gov. Rick Snyder's approval ratings have surged among local government leaders, who have a much brighter outlook on Michigan's future than a year ago, according to a survey to be released today by the University of Michigan.
But local officials and elected leaders continue to take a dim view of the state Legislature, where House members face an election Nov. 6, the Michigan Public Policy Survey conducted by U-M's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy found.
About 49% of the leaders gave Snyder a positive rating, up from 37% last year, according to the survey. Of those surveyed, 58% identified themselves as Republicans, while only 23% said they were Democrats.
Half of local government leaders said they believe the state is moving in the right direction, up from 32% a year ago. But only 27% gave positive approval ratings to the Legislature, up slightly from the 21% positive approval ratings lawmakers received in 2011.
Snyder "definitely has stayed on his message of this kind of relentless positive action," said survey respondent David Lossing, the mayor of Linden in southern Genesee County.
"The trick is getting the Legislature to go along with him. They've been going off on various social issues," said Lossing, a Democrat who said his impression of Snyder improved during the last year.
The party affiliation of most survey respondents -- which included county administrators and board chairs, city mayors and managers, village presidents and managers and township supervisors and clerks -- reflected strong GOP gains in elections held in 2010.
The school sent surveys to 1,856 local government units and received responses from 1,329. Of the 1,188 respondents who gave their party identifications, 686 were Republicans, 276 Democrats, 191 independents, and 35 had some other affiliation.
Most polls of the entire electorate show Michigan roughly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, or having a slightly higher proportion of voters who identify themselves as Democrats. Still, those polls have shown a similar trend.
A June poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing found Snyder with a 48% approval rating, up from 38% in May 2011. In the June EPIC-MRA poll, 39% of respondents identified themselves as Democrats and 37% as Republicans.
Tom Ivacko, program manager for the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Ford School, acknowledged that the survey respondents skewed Republican. As top elected or appointed local officials, they also tend to be better informed than the electorate at large and in some cases are opinion leaders, he said.
It's significant how many local leaders have shifted from answering "I don't know" about Snyder a year ago, when he did not have much of a track record, to having a positive impression, Ivacko said. Snyder took office Jan. 1, 2011.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor is focused on "making and sticking to the decisions that will help turn around Michigan's economy and build for the future," not opinion surveys. "We know Michigan's on a strong comeback path and hopefully this turnaround is what our citizens, communities and businesses are seeing and witnessing firsthand," Wurfel said. "That's what matters."
After expressing outrage at cuts in Snyder's first state budget in 2011, local leaders were happier with Snyder's 2012 budget, which tended to hold the line on funding or included small increases.
Ivacko said uncertainty remains about how local governments will have funding restored after the planned repeal of the personal property tax on businesses. But he said several changes in the last year have been more positively received, such as speedier approval of the state budget, which gives local governments better and earlier information to work with in crafting their own budgets.
(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press