Local leaders split over state’s emergency manager law
A University of Michigan survey showed that less than half (38%) of Michigan’s local leaders support the state’s emergency manager law, while about a third (30%) oppose it, and the rest are neutral or unsure, according to a University of Michigan survey.
Other findings in the poll by the U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy indicate that a majority (53%) of those who feel fairly well informed about the law think it would be effective at helping to protect or restore the fiscal health of Michigan’s local governments.
The emergency manager law (Public Act 4), one of the most controversial reforms of the Gov. Rick Snyder administration and the state Legislature, took effect in March 2011. It expands powers available to emergency managers, under certain circumstances, to reject, modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements; shrink or void decision-making powers of local elected officials; sell a local jurisdiction’s assets and more. PA 4 has been suspended, pending a referendum on the November ballot.
The poll, part of the Michigan Public P olicy Survey series, reports that:
Less than half, or 43%, of local leaders think PA 4 will be effective at helping to protect or restore the fiscal health of Michigan’s local governments across the state, while 19% think it will be ineffective. Belief in the law’s effectiveness climbs to 53% of leaders when excluding those who know very little about the law.
Support for PA 4 is more strongly correlated with beliefs about the law’s effectiveness than with other factors, including partisanship.
Levels of support or opposition among local officials also differ along a number of other lines including whether the official is elected or appointed, whether the jurisdiction has a public sector labor union or not and other factors.
The study, conducted April 9 to June 18, involved surveys sent via hardcopy and the Internet to top elected and appointed officials in all counties, cities, villages and townships in Michigan. A total of 1,329 jurisdictions returned valid surveys, resulting in a 72% response rate. The survey had a margin of error of 1.43 percentage points either way.
Local officials are divided in support, belief in effectiveness of emergency manager law
Among the most far-reaching reforms launched recently by Governor Rick Snyder and the state legislature, Michigan’s new “emergency manager law” took effect in March 2011, replacing PA 72 of 1990. The new law formally known as the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act, or Public Act 4 (PA 4) of 2011, significantly expands the powers available to emergency managers to deal with local government fiscal crises.
PA 4 includes features that, under certain circumstances, allow an emergency manager to: reject, modify, or terminate collective bargaining agreements; set aside all substantive decision-making powers of local elected officials; sell, transfer, or lease a local jurisdiction’s assets (with approval of the state); and more.
Currently, PA 4 has been suspended, pending a referendum on the law on the November 2012 statewide ballot. Public Act 72 of 1990, which preceded PA 4, is now back in effect. For a thorough review of PA 4, its current status, and Michigan’s history with prior legislation governing local financial emergencies, see recent papers by Eric Scorsone at Michigan State University,1 and by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.2
To get a sense of how Michigan’s local government leaders view PA 4, the Spring 2012 MPPS asked a series of questions about the law and some of its key features.
Overall, 14% of local leaders say they are very familiar with PA 4, while 50% say they are somewhat familiar and 25% say they have heard of PA 4 but know very little about it.
Finally, 9% say they have never heard of PA 4 and 2% say they don’t know how familiar they are with the law. Analysis in this report excludes those who say they have never heard of PA 4.
Only 38% of local leaders overall support PA 4, although another 32% are either neutral on the question or say they don’t know if they support or oppose it. Meanwhile, 30% of local leaders oppose PA 4 outright.
A number of factors are associated with local leaders’ support or opposition to the law. Among the strongest factors are the views of local leaders on PA 4’s effectiveness at helping to protect or restore the fiscal health of Michigan’s local governments across the state.
Overall, 43% of local leaders believe PA 4 will be effective, while 19% believe it will be ineffective (see Figure 2). Another 14% think the law will be neither effective nor ineffective (which could be
interpreted as belief that it will not make much of a difference, and therefore might be closer to the view that PA 4 will be ineffective).
At the same time, nearly a quarter (24%) of local leaders say they are unsure about how effective or ineffective the law will be.
Among those who believe PA 4 will be very effective, 83% support the law and only 9% oppose it. At the opposite end, among those who think PA 4 will be very ineffective, 73% oppose the law, and only 9% support it.
When excluding officials who have heard of PA 4 but know little about it, 53% of the remaining local leaders believe the law will be either somewhat or very effective.
Beyond belief in the law’s effectiveness, other factors are also associated with support or opposition to it. For example, local officials who hold appointed positions (such as county administrators, or city, township, and village managers) are more likely to support PA 4 than are elected local officials. In addition, leaders in jurisdictions that have local government labor unions are more likely to support PA 4 than are leaders from jurisdictions without unions. Furthermore, Republican and Independent local officials are more likely to support PA 4 than are Democratic local officials.
Overall, statistical analysis accounting for a wide variety of possible influences on support or opposition to PA 4 finds that belief in the law’s effectiveness is, by far, the factor most strongly associated with support for the law.