I’ve written elsewhere that 2011 was the best year for policy reform in Michigan since Gov. John Engler’s first term (1991-94). Not coincidentally, the state’s economy is finally improving. Gov. Rick Snyder deserves significant credit for this, so voters must approve of the job he’s doing, right?

Wrong. My quick review of 13 polls going back to January last year tells me voters have disapproved more than they have approved by 20-30 percentage-point margins for most of the governor’s tenure. And they still disapprove.

The disapproval numbers are falling, and the approvals are inching upward, but Gov. Snyder has yet to get anywhere near 50 percent approval. (The Talking Points Memo Polltracker neatly summarizes
the surveys.)

Why? Probably no one really knows, but I’ll venture a theory. It’s the same reason kids would give their parents a low approval rating if you surveyed them at bedtime — right after being told they had to go to bed whether they were tired or not. Or right after being told to eat their vegetables. Getting enough rest and eating nutritiously are good, but telling kids to do so is not the way parents earn immediate approval.

I’m not equating voters with children, but children are handy exemplars of the natural reaction anyone feels when presented with stark realities.

Gov. Snyder’s approval is low because no one wants to hear the state can no longer spend as if Michigan’s economy hadn’t lost nearly a million jobs, Detroit hadn’t lost half its population, and our biggest industry hadn’t lost dominance in the global marketplace.

Economic strength paid for policy indulgences of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s that are no longer affordable. Gov. Snyder took aim at some government union excesses and government employment benefits that greatly surpassed private-sector norms. He cut the tax burden on job creators and converted the tax code from a lopsided collection of loopholes and corporate giveaways to a vastly simpler flat tax. He preached “shared sacrifice” while, inevitably, the effects were felt unevenly.

About 25 of his reforms were worth writing about on Page 6. The changes vaulted Michigan from a rank of 49th to 7th among the states for corporate taxes, and from 18th to 12th for overall business tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation.

We’re no cheerleader for any politician, but we do cheer for free-market policies. Gov. Snyder has spearheaded a lot of it recently, although we aren’t reluctant to point out where he, and the Legislature, should do even more to rein in unions and reduce taxes and spending.

Overall, Gov. Snyder has acted as the adult in the room when it came time to clean up the fiscal mess left by predecessors. If his goal is to restore Michigan to prosperity, he is not done delivering the bad news yet. His slogan has been “Relentless Positive Action” but perhaps it should be “Relentless Positive Medicine.”