Published: July 29, 2015

Michigan’s roads supplant schools on fix-it wish list

Contact(s): Charles Ballard Department of Economics office: (517) 353-2961, Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949, Cynthia Kyle IPPSR office: (517) 353-1731

For the first time, Michigan residents say the condition of the state’s roads is a bigger problem than its education system, according to Michigan State University’s latest State of the State Survey.

Nearly three months after voters soundly rejected a ballot proposal to fund road repairs, state lawmakers continue debating plans to raise at least $1.2 billion a year to address the crumbling roads and bridges.

The spring survey, released today, was conducted just as the May 5 ballot initiative was being debated and voted on. The survey also gauged residents’ trust in government.

“I would be surprised if such a large number of people continue to say that roads are one of the top issues next year, but that depends partly on whether the Legislature can pass a road-funding package,” said Charles Ballard, survey director and MSU professor of economics.

“Of course, getting anything through the Legislature is very hard. And because opposition to taxes is so strong, it seems very likely that whatever package is passed will leave us far short of the funding that would bring our roads up to the standards of much of the rest of the country.”

Once a year, the survey asks voters to identify the most important problems facing the governor and the Legislature. Jobs/economy has ranked No. 1 every year dating back to 2003, with education quality/finances coming in at No. 2 during that stretch. But this year, roads crashed the party, supplanting education on the problem list. Here’s a closer look:

  1. Jobs/economy: 32 percent of respondents cited it as the top problem in 2015, down from 49 percent in 2014.
  2. Roads/highways/bridges: 20 percent cited it as the top problem in 2015, up from just 4 percent in 2014.
  3. Education quality/finances: 15 percent cited it as the top problem in 2015, down from 17 percent in 2014.

A host of issues came in at less than 4 percent each, including taxes, health care, crime, poverty and environment.

Trust in government (or lack thereof)

Michigan residents continue to trust local government much more than either state or federal government.

Specifically, when asked how often they can trust local government, 41 percent of respondents said “nearly all or most of the time.” When it came to state government, that figure dropped to 20 percent. With the federal government, it dipped even further, to 16 percent.

The survey also tracked consumer confidence as well as approval ratings for Gov. Rick Snyder and President Barack Obama. Read more about those results here.

The telephone survey of 966 Michigan adults was conducted between March 26 and June 22. The margin of error is 3.15 percent.

Charles Ballard is professor of economics and director of Michigan State University's State of the State Survey. Photo by Erin Groom.