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CLOSUP poll: Incentives working, but local officials in Michigan lukewarm about state funding reforms

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Only a small minority of local officials in Michigan believe that major reforms in the way they receive state funding that require adoption of "dashboard" reports will be very effective in improving the overall performance of their governments.

The sweeping policy changes began last year and require local governments that are eligible for funding to create dashboards—scorecards that measure their performance in key areas, such as fiscal stability, public safety and economic strength. State policymakers believe these dashboards will help improve the accountability and transparency of local governments.

Eligible local governments must produce the dashboards to show that they are meeting the state's standards and qualify to receive their share of state funds available in the new system, the Economic Vitality Incentive Program, which replaced the former statutory revenue-sharing program.

So far, the policy changes have received a lukewarm reception from most local officials, according to the latest Michigan Public Policy Survey from the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Only 10 percent of all local leaders think a dashboard would be very effective at improving their jurisdiction's accountability and transparency, the poll said.

The survey also found that only 8 percent think a dashboard would be very effective at improving their local government's overall performance.

Local officials expressed a number of common concerns about dashboards, including that they sometimes measure factors beyond the control of local government, and that measures can be ambiguous, resulting in flawed understanding and inappropriate comparisons between jurisdictions.

Another finding that should concern the state is that 24 percent of the officials from the smallest jurisdictions eligible for the dashboard-incentive program said they know very little, if anything, about it. Officials in large jurisdictions were quite familiar with the program, the poll found.

Despite the doubts about the value of dashboards, the state's incentive program appears to be working, as 90 percent of the local governments that are eligible for funds in the program say they have created a dashboard or will do so in the next 12 months. By comparison, only 26 percent of local governments that are not eligible for funds are creating dashboards.

The survey was done by the Ford School's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy. The poll, conducted from Oct. 3 to Nov. 23, involved online and hardcopy surveys sent to the top elected and appointed officials in all of the counties, cities, villages and townships in Michigan. A total of 1,330 jurisdictions returned valid surveys, resulting in a 72 percent response rate. The margin of error for the survey as a whole was 1.43 percentage points.