Election 2014 Snyder, Schauer at odds over recovery, major laws Election for governor promises to be tighter than four years ago

By David Eggert

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan's turnaround is underway because he made long-overdue tough decisions - coming to grips with a broke Detroit, fixing an uncompetitive business tax structure and putting the state's finances in order all while retaining a "relentlessly positive" governing style after years of partisan strife.

His challenger in the Nov. 4 election, former Democratic congressman and state lawmaker Mark Schauer, counters that the governor went too far and got tough on the wrong people in his zest to radically overhaul government, departing from the pro-middle class "Michigan way."

Snyder's re-election bid has largely become a referendum on his first term, the ex-computer executive and venture capitalist's first as an elected official - a record of which he is proud and that Schauer dubs a failure.

In his town halls and other campaign appearances, Snyder, 56, likes to harken back to five years ago, when the state was teetering with the country's highest jobless rate and declining personal income and population.

"Think how broken we were. ... I really view November as an opportunity to say, 'Do we want to go back to the Michigan of 2009? Or do we want to keep the Michigan that we're reinventing?"

He acknowledges more work must be done but says the foundation has been built for a sustained economic resurgence.

Schauer, however, tells voters that the recovery is too weak and slow and can be credited mostly to a rebounding auto industry thanks to the U.S. government's bailout loans, which he supported in Congress. He says Snyder's tax overhaul, anti-union laws, budget decisions, and beefed-up state powers to intervene in financially distressed cities and school districts turned off many middle-of-the road voters who previously backed him and have galvanized the Democratic Party's base.

"The public doesn't like his policies. They feel like there was a bait and switch from what he said he was going to do in 2010. There's a great sense of disappointment ... even sort of a buyer's remorse," said Schauer, 53.

Also running in the governor's race are Libertarian Mary Buzuma, the Green Party's Paul Homeniuk and Mark McFarlin with the U.S. Taxpayers Party. The election promises to be tighter than four years ago, when the more moderate Snyder emerged from a crowded GOP primary and defeated Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero by 18 points. The last three times incumbent governors sought re-election - 2006, 1998 and 1994 - were blowouts. Schauer hopes for 1990, when John Engler upended two-term Gov. Jim Blanchard by fewer than 18,000 votes, or seven-tenths of a percentage point.

Schauer agrees with a few things Snyder has done like sign a minimum wage increase and expand Medicaid to more low-income adults, a move that did not sit well with conservative activists opposed to President Barack Obama's federal health care law. While Schauer voted for the legislation in Congress, Snyder - who opposed the broader law but still welcomed a key component in expanded Medicaid - has not made it a big campaign issue.

But the men differ sharply over Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature's cut in business taxes and elimination or reduction in exemptions or credits that individual taxpayers received on things like retirement income and property taxes.

Snyder says it made sense to eliminate the "dumb" Michigan Business Tax in favor of a simpler corporate income tax that benefits smaller companies whose owners are no longer being double taxed. He also wiped out many special economic-development tax credits and says Michigan's tax scheme is still one of the 10 most generous to seniors, even though pensioners born after 1945 are paying higher taxes.

Schauer says he would keep intact the new business tax and give tax incentives to companies that create Michigan jobs and make them repay tax breaks if they send jobs overseas. He wants to reinstate tax breaks for retirees, homeowners and renters, and low-income earners.

"I talk to seniors every day that are paying $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 more a year ... because of the Snyder pension tax," Schauer said. "That's wrong."

Snyder defends a new right-to-work law despised by Democrats and initial cuts in education funding enacted in 2011 when federal aid for recession-weary states dried up. K-12 and university spending has risen since then, though Schauer says he would have found a way to ensure there were no funding decreases.

No first-term Michigan governor has lost re-election in a half-century. Snyder says one focus in a second term would be to better train workers for skilled trade jobs and integrate the education system from preschool through post-high school learning.

"I want to keep going. There's more to do," Snyder said.

Published: Thu, Oct 30, 2014

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