Investigative
5:00 am
Tue May 13, 2014

New poll: Save Detroit art and retirees' pensions

A new poll shows Michigan voters outside of Detroit approve using state money to support the so-called “Grand Bargain” to bolster City of Detroit retirees’ pensions and protect the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The poll was commissioned by Michigan Radio and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

(See DJC partner Bridge Magazine's coverage of the poll here.)

It found almost half of voters outside the city of Detroit support the state government contributing $350 million to help solve some of the sticky issues of the bankruptcy. Forty-nine percent favor the contribution, 34 percent oppose it.

It’s not a majority.

People like the plan better when they learn that the $350 million would go to bolster the retirees’ pension funds and protect the Detroit Institute of Art from having to auction off part of its collection.

Bernie Porn is with EPIC-MRA, the firm that conducted the poll.

He says after you boil it down, when people know the money goes to retirees and to help the art museum, more people approve.

...when people know the money goes to retirees and to help the art museum, more people approve.

“When you do that, you end up with 62% support for the proposal and that includes 74% of Democrats, 58% of Republicans, and then only 51% of independents,” Porn explained.

Another question asked about different approaches to doling out that money. The people polled do not like the idea of a one-time payment. They do like the idea of installment payments over 20 years.

Gov. Rick Snyder says that approach is worth considering.

“Yeah, well, the lump sum versus installment: I was always open to that,” Gov. Snyder said.

The big concern among legislators has been the appearance that the State of Michigan is bailing out Detroit. Gov. Snyder says this is not a bailout and helping Detroit straighten out its bankruptcy is something that will help Michigan on several levels.

The poll results contradict conventional wisdom which says people outside of Detroit disapprove of state taxpayer dollars going to help the city find a better bankruptcy.

“The economic growth, the helping retirees that not necessarily are just in Detroit, but they’re located all across Michigan. Think the power of everyone focused on saying, 'Detroit’s growing,' as opposed to the last five or six decades of people talking about Detroit’s problems,” the governor said.

Try explaining that to the legislators outside of Detroit who are afraid of voter backlash. But Bernie Porn with EPIC-MRA says according to the poll, legislators don’t need to worry.

“This is not going to in any way, shape, or form negatively impact legislators running for election,” Porn said.

Fifty-five percent of those polled indicated the way their legislators voted on the $350 million for the “Grand Bargain” would not affect whether they supported them. 27% indicated it would make them more likely to vote for them - only 15% said less likely.

The poll results contradict conventional wisdom which says people outside of Detroit disapprove of state taxpayer dollars going to help the city find a better bankruptcy.

Historian Thomas Sugrue wrote a landmark book on how Detroit’s financial problems date back decades. He says Michigan needs a financially healthy Detroit if the state as a whole is to succeed. But in the past, public attitudes have worked against that.

“Suburbanites often say, ‘It’s their problem, not our problem.’ Folks in Lansing and outstate say, ‘It’s their problem. I don’t want my tax dollars going into that sinkhole,’” Sugrue said, speaking at the recent Detroit Policy Conference.

This new Detroit Journalism Cooperative poll indicates Michigan voters outside of Detroit might be cautiously willing to offer support as long as they know exactly where the money is going, and it won’t just be lost in that “sinkhole.”

The poll is based on live telephone interviews conducted May 3 through May 5 with 600 registered voters across Michigan, except in the city of Detroit. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Correction: an eearlier version of this story was incorrect regarding repayment of funds. It has been deleted.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, and the Ford Foundation.

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