3 GOP gov. candidates spar over Mich. economy

By Kathy Barks Hoffman
AP Political Writer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Three out of the five Republicans running for governor in Michigan said Monday they would get rid of at least some corporate taxes but sparred over who could best repair the state’s struggling economy.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder and state Sen. Tom George answered questions posed by Booth Newspapers political reporter Peter Luke and Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley at an evening debate held at the WGVU-TV studio in Grand Rapids.

Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said they had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t attend.

Hoekstra, Snyder and George agreed that the 2-year-old Michigan Business Tax can be decreased, although they differed on the amount. The tax now raises about $2.2 billion a year.

Hoekstra said he wants to eliminate the MBT and eventually get rid of the personal property tax businesses pay on computers and equipment. He didn’t say he would replace the lost revenue.

Snyder said he wants to go to a 6 percent corporate income tax to replace the MBT, which he says applies unequally to similar businesses and is too complicated. His proposal would replace about $700 million of the lost MBT revenue.

George said he wants to get rid of the 22 percent surcharge added to the MBT when it took effect. But he warned his competitors may be ignoring the need to balance the state budget as they promise to cut taxes but also add funding for some programs.

“I voted for balanced budgets. I’ve done it for 10 years. I did it last week,” George said after the debate. “You elect one of these guys, the check to your public school might bounce in the first quarter of 2011.”

Asked if they would cut the pay of public school teachers and other public workers, the three agreed that public salaries and benefits need to come down.

“Look at the private sector. Look at what happened in the automotive industry, and the sacrifices those people have made,” Snyder said. “We need to look at whole compensation and come up with a solution that isn’t a one-year solution or a two-year solution, but a 10- and 20-year solution.”

Hoekstra agreed, saying “it’s a reflection of the condition that the state’s in.”

He added, however, that if public employees make sacrifices now to help the state turn around, “you may get a bonus in the future if you fundamentally help change the state.”

George said he voted earlier this year to stop state workers from getting a 3 percent pay raise on Oct. 1. The raise will take effect because lawmakers couldn’t get a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to eliminate it, but George said it’s too much money for the state to spend this year.

Snyder said the state needs to emphasize arts and culture to create cities attractive to young college graduates, noting the thousands of people attracted to downtown Grand Rapids last fall by the first annual ArtPrize competition.

But Hoekstra said putting money into “cool cities” initiatives won’t help if young adults have to leave the state to find work.

“A ‘cool city’ to our young people is a city with a job,” he said.

Although all five Republicans running for governor participated last month in an East Lansing debate sponsored by the Michigan Republican Party, the candidates haven’t appeared in a debate since some of them began running negative ads earlier this month about their opponents. The ads are just one sign that the infighting is getting fiercer as the candidates struggle to make an impression on Michigan voters before the Aug. 3 primary election.

Hoekstra, who has been the target of two negative ads run by the Cox campaign, said the attack ads are bringing more volunteers and donations to his campaign.

“Keep it coming, man,” he said. “You’re only helping me.”

George took an indirect swipe at Cox, saying voters want more than a candidate who will “run negative ads and duck debates.”

Snyder repeated a line from his own campaign ad, saying the campaign must involve “less bickering.”

The hour-long debate will air Tuesday night on most public broadcasting stations statewide. It also will be available on the websites of the Center for Michigan and MiVote.org, which coordinated the event.

It’s part of the Great Debate 2010 series sponsored by business, labor and advocacy groups to promote a broader discussion of issues about Michigan’s future. The groups will host a second gubernatorial debate July 15 in Detroit at WTVS with the two Democratic candidates, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House Speaker Andy Dillon, as well as post-primary debates for legislative candidates in 50 swing districts.