MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Mark Ouimet vs. Gretchen Driskell
Who: Michigan Republican Party, Michigan Democratic Party, Friends of Gretchen Driskell
Truth Squad call: No foul on GOP mailers. Foul on one Democratic party mailer, but not the other. No foul on Driskell mailer.
Republican Party mailers
Republican freshman Rep. Mark Ouimet of Scio Township in Washtenaw County is seeking re-election in the 52nd House District, where he is opposed by Democrat Gretchen Driskell, who is mayor of the city of Saline.
Questionable statement: "While serving as mayor of Saline, Gretchen Driskell voted to increase her salary eight times."
According to City Clerk Dianne Hill, the mayor's salary has increased five times since Driskell took office in 1999. Driskell said the votes were always unanimous and that she also voted against raises several times. The pay rates are set by a local officers compensation commission, and the council, including the mayor, can either accept it or reject it. Three of the five raises were $100. Driskell's salary as mayor grew from $3,200 in 1998 to $4,000 in 2009, and she hasn't had a raise since.
Questionable statement: "She received over $35,000 in taxpayer-funded travel reimbursements for her junkets across America."
The mailer cites "City of Saline Expense Vouchers and Credit Card statements."
The Driskell campaign did not dispute the figure when contacted by Truth Squad.
Driskell acknowledges traveling to conferences of the Michigan Municipal League and the National League of Cities, where she has had leadership roles. She is a former vice president and board member of the MML and is vice chair of the Advisory Council for the League of Cities. Last year, the City Council approved her trip to Phoenix for a League of Cities conference, despite objections raised by a city resident. Driskell said that she paid her own expenses in travels to Germany and Wales to establish sister cities with Saline.
Questionable statement: "According to a Saline City Council member, Gretchen took questionable votes related to her employer, including permit fee waivers."
While serving as mayor in the early 2000s, Driskell also worked part-time as a leasing coordinator for the Phoenix Corp., which owns business rental property in Saline and does other business with the city. According to the Ann Arbor News, she abstained on several votes involving Phoenix, but she did vote for a building permit fee waiver. Councilwoman Mary Hess raised questions about whether it was a conflict of interest.
A city attorney's report found that Driskell had not taken inappropriate action. "I have been unable to find any Council action on any matter which might be directly, or even indirectly, related to your employment relationship with Phoenix where you failed to abstain from voting," the attorney's memo reportedly said. Hess was unsatisfied with the report, saying it lacked objectivity," according to the newspaper.
Questionable statement: "Mark Ouimet championed legislation that made it a crime for protesters to disrupt a military funeral."
Michigan enacted a law prohibiting protests at military funerals several years ago after by the extremist Westboro Baptist Church disrupted military funerals around the country, including in Michigan.
Foul or no foul: No foul. Politicians are an easy target on pay raises. In this case the system calls for an outside body to review pay and recommend changes, while ultimately leaving the decision to accept or reject the recommendations to the council. However, the ad's descriptions of the facts are correct.
Michigan Democratic Party mailer "Times are tough"
Questionable statement: Ouimet voted to raise taxes by $1.4 billion, including raising the income tax and eliminating the child tax credit."
The statement on the mailer refers to tax changes pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder during his first year in office. These include elimination of most of the deductions on the income tax, including deductions for pension income and the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as a freeze on the rate at 4.35 percent. The Michigan Business Tax also was replaced with a new 6 percent corporate income tax, though larger corporations are still covered by the income tax, while small businesses, generally, are not.
The package, explained in large part here, did eliminate the tax credit for pension income for some seniors (the change was phased in based on when the retiree was born), increasing their tax bills. The Senate Fiscal Agency had projected the change would mean $409.1 million for the state fiscal year that just ended, though a small portion of that amount also came from elimination of a credit for unemployment income.
In total, the elimination of the various income tax credits was projected to bring $559.1 million the first year and $1.42 billion for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
Questionable statement: "Ouimet took care of his special interest backers, slashing their taxes by $1.8 billion which he paid for by cutting funding for local schools. And now he is working to give the corporate special interests another $600 million cut."
As mentioned above, business taxes were dramatically reduced. Exactly how much remains to be seen. While the Senate Fiscal Agency report put the total at $1.6 billion, others, including the Detroit News, use $1.8 billion. Voters can't tell from the mailer that the "special interest backers" are the business community.
Republicans have also been pushing to eliminate the personal property tax (the $600 million cut) which, despite its name, is a tax on equipment. They argue that the tax discourages businesses from investing in Michigan and growing. According to an article in the weekly News-Herald, Ouimet believes the tax is archaic. He also said in an opinion column he would not eliminate it without replacement revenue for local governments. Opponents contend that eliminating it is one more tax break for business at the expense of individuals.
Questionable statement: "Ouimet and his cronies cut $1 billion for Michigan schools, taking funding directly out of our classrooms and jeopardizing our schools."
The Michigan Business Tax was earmarked for K-12 education. Its replacement taxes are not. According to a Senate Fiscal Agency State Budget Overview, the cut for public schools was $986 million for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013. That included a net tax revenue loss of $590 million, and $396 million from the School Aid Fund that is going to community colleges and universities.
Questionable statement: "Ouimet voted to cut nearly $300 million from higher education, raising tuition at the U of M, EMU, MSU and other state universities and cutting state aid.
The Legislature cut $213 million from higher education in fiscal 2012. It did not vote to raise tuition. Those decisions were made by the governing boards of the universities. While there is obviously a relationship between state funding and tuition, it is up to the universities, not the Legislature, to decide how much students will pay for their education.
Questionable statement: "Ouimet voted to allow insurance companies to deny women essential services, like mammograms and birth control. And his Republican cronies in Lansing even tried to pass legislation to make it illegal for women to use common forms of contraception like the birth control pill."
Ouimet voted in favor of House Resolution 186, which encouraged Congress to enact the Respect of Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, federal legislation giving employers the right not to provide insurance coverage for services based on religious or moral grounds. The measure was hotly contested, with debate centering over abortion and birth control. The House resolution was only advising Congress; therefore the claim that he voted to allow companies to deny services is inaccurate.
In making the second claim, that "his Republican cronies" tried to pass legislation making it illegal for women to use birth control pills or other common forms of contraception, the mailer cites Senate Bill 13, and House Joint Resolution HH, both of which support so-called "personhood," the idea that life begins at conception, which would make some forms of contraception illegal. However, Ouimet is not a sponsor of the House resolution, and neither measure has come up for a vote.
Foul or no foul: Foul. The descriptions of taxes and school funding votes are accurate, but the implication that Ouimet and his Republican colleagues raised tuition at public universities is false. Only the governing boards can do that. The description of the abortion issue is troublesome. It leads voters to believe that his vote on an advisory measure to Congress would somehow directly lead to the denial of services.
Michigan Democratic mailer "Gretchen Driskell balanced budgets ..."
Questionable statement: "Ouimet voted to raise taxes on middle-class families, and use that money to give corporations and CEOs a $1.8 billion giveaway. Now he's fighting to give them another $600 million in cuts.
As discussed above, the Legislature, with Ouimet's support, cut taxes for businesses by about $1.8 billion. Whether that is a "giveaway," or improved tax policy, is for voters to decide. The $600 million in additional cuts is what Republicans are seeking by eliminating the personal property tax. As also discussed, Ouimet has said the personal property tax is archaic but has also said he would not support its repeal unless there is replacement revenue for local governments. It remains to be seen whether that would come from other taxes on business, or somewhere else.
Questionable statement: "An independent audit showed Ouimet took nearly $15,000 in reimbursements he wasn't eligible for as county commissioner, and as state representative, he's billed taxpayers more than $17,000 in expenses."
Ouimet served as a Washtenaw County commissioner before he was elected to the state House in 2010. During his campaign, Democrats accused him of bilking the public by inappropriately claiming reimbursement for a variety of activities.
Under county rules, commissioners were eligible for $25 per diems for attending meetings of the Board of Commissioners and its committees, as well as other authorized county-related and where boards and committees on which commissioners serve. After the allegations were made, the Ann Arbor News review the records and found that Ouimet had claimed reimbursements of a wide range of other meetings and events, including an interview with the Ann Arbor News editorial board, meetings with the County administrator, and attendance at an annual memorial service for fallen police officers.
An audit followed and found that Ouimet had received inappropriate reimbursements totaling 14,386. Nine other commissioners were found to have received inappropriate reimbursements of much smaller amounts. He then paid the money back to the county.
It is true that Ouimet has received more than $17,000 for expenses since becoming a state representative in 2011. Legislators receive a $71,685 salary and $10,800 for expenses — those are set by the State Officers Compensation Commission. All legislators receive the payment for expenses as part of their compensation package. The "more than $17,000" is the total of all of 2011 and part of 2012. They are also entitled to mileage for a round trip to the Capitol each week and mileage for legislative-related travel in the district. (naomi, see attachment)
Questionable statement: "Opposes a woman's right to choose."
Ouimet voted for House Bill 5711, which, among other things, would prohibit the mandatory physical examinations preceding an abortion from being conducted online and require abortion clinics to be licensed, freestanding facilities. Here is a House Fiscal Agency analysis. He also voted for House Bills 4109 and 4110, and Senate Bill 160, all related to prohibiting partial-birth abortions. During his 2010 campaign, Ouimet was quoted as saying he was not interested in changing the law on abortion. "What I have said is federal law, Roe v. Wade, has been stated and I'm not interested in working on changing that law."
Foul or no foul: No foul. The tax description accurately describes changes in the law. The mailer is also factual in describing the county reimbursements that Ouimet received for which he was ineligible. While it is true that he also received expense money as a state representative, the mailer fails to note that that is part of his basic compensation. The abortion description may be overly broad, but there's no question that his votes are aligned with the pro-life agenda.
Friends of Gretchen Driskell mailer
Questionable statement: Republicans have taxed Michigan's seniors and retirees to pay for a $1.8 billion tax giveaway to corporate special interests.
This claim, discussed above, relates to the tax shift from businesses to individuals that Republicans enacted in 2011. They argue that it will benefit Michigan residents by improving the business climate, thus protecting and adding jobs. Democrats argue that Republicans are favoring business owners and CEOs over the middle class. The House Fiscal Agency analyzed various tax impacts here.
Foul or no foul: No foul. The Legislature has reduced business taxes and increased the burden for many individual filers.
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