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Where they stand: Michigan governor candidates’ plan to grow the economy

August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor
August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor

As with practically every year, the economy is crucial to this year’s election for governor.

Although Michigan’s economy has gone gangbusters since 2011, experts warn the sustained period of growth likely won’t last. And the revival includes troubling spots, such as stagnant wages and moribund growth in northern Michigan and regions including Saginaw, Flint and Bay City.

Related: Michigan’s economy is bigger than ever. Now is the time to diversify 
Related: See what industries are fueling economy in your Michigan area 
Slideshow: Michigan's regional economies ranked by growth since 2009

Bridge Magazine asked the eight leading candidates for governor –  four Republicans, four Democrats – specific questions about the economy. It briefed all of them about our findings and asked these questions:

  1. What is your plan to help Michigan’s economy?
  2. Can/should the governor help diversify the economy?
  3. What can government do to attract jobs?
  4. How can the government jumpstart areas, particularly rural ones, that aren’t growing as fast?

Most of the candidates did not answer all the questions and instead repeated their philosophies about government and jobs. Bridge asked them to limit their responses to 300 words. Their responses were edited for length and clarity.

Republicans

Brian Calley

Lieutenant governor, Calley is running largely on his legacy, pointing to tax cuts and investments that grew the economy by 15.4 percent since 2011, when term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder took office.

Calley is pushing Snyder’s “Marshall Plan for Talent,” which would spend $100 million on scholarships, childcare and school programs to help grow fields such as computer science and skilled trades. The plan encourages competency-based certification, assistance for schools to improve curricula and classroom equipment and supports career navigators and teachers.

“Calley will help fill more than 800,000 jobs in technical, professional and skilled trades field by 2024 by connecting Michiganders to these careers with innovative programs,” said  campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf.

Patrick Colbeck

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who is from suburban Detroit, is an advocate of small government who believes “taxes should always be the last option.”

“The best way for government  to ‘jumpstart’ economies ... is to get out of the way so business can innovate, grow and create jobs,” Colbeck said.

“If we improve job skills, roads, bring down the costs of doing business by lowering taxes, insurance and energy costs, the jobs will come, even on a wintery day.”

Colbeck opposes government subsidies, excessive regulation and economic policies that “pick winners and losers.” He proposes gradually eliminating the 4.25 percent state income tax and pension tax by changing how the state delivers Medicaid and saving money on roads by investing in paving technology that extends their lifespans.

Dr. Jim Hines

A Saginaw-area doctor, Hines did not respond to Bridge’s requests for information.

Bill Schuette

Attorney General Bill Schuette says Michigan’s economy has made progress in recent years but “we must realize how much more work is necessary to catch up and pass the fastest-growing states.”

He is pushing a plan he calls the “Paycheck Agenda” to grow all sectors of the economy by rolling back former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s “temporary” increase of the state income tax to 4.35 percent from 3.9 percent.

“We cannot afford to not cut taxes and grow. I will not stand by as we simply carve up a shrinking pie,” Schuette said. “The next governor must be aggressive in reshaping Michigan so we can grow.”

He also pledged to encourage job training among students to fill jobs and said “improving grade school reading is an absolute priority,” but he didn’t specify how he would do so.

Democrats

Bill Cobbs

An Oakland County former executive for Xerox, Cobbs says he would grow the economy with a $60 billion infrastructure replacement program that would be repaid through a 30-year bond.

“That program would deal with infrastructure from one side of the state to the other. It would give us the opportunity to put any Michigander who wants to work in a job for the next 25 to 30 years,” Cobbs said.

“These jobs would pay at least $17.50 per hour and profoundly improve the lives of people denied basic human dignity.”

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed

The former director of the Detroit Health Department, El-Sayed favors boosting the minimum wage to $15 and shifting public support from big corporations to small businesses.

"For too long, Michigan has played by the same script: provide massive corporate tax cuts to big corporations, and then watch as the jobs that they promised disappeared because they were offshored or automated,” El-Sayed said.

El-Sayed said he plans to review and streamline Michigan’s regulatory codes, reinstate grants for mid-career job retraining, expand vocational education and guarantee access to tuition-free education for children of families that make less than $150,000.

He said he also would invest in affordable housing, encourage the development of light manufacturing and help grow agriculture by helping create programs that would connect small farms with craft businesses.

Shri Thanedar

An entrepreneur and former owner of a chemical testing laboratory, Thanedar says he would reform the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to support small businesses rather than corporations.

“To jump start our economy, I plan to increase support for entrepreneurs who want to create jobs, create tuition incentives to keep more college graduates here, with even bigger incentives if they also create jobs,” Thanedar said.

He said he also would demand companies return tax incentives if they don’t deliver on promised jobs; invest in universal wireless; move to a graduated income tax system; increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour; enshrine collective bargaining rights into the state Constitution and increase access to affordable child care.

Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer, the state’s former Senate majority leader, says she soon will release her jobs plan so more people can “participate in our state’s so-called economic comeback,” which she says requires families to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

She is pledging an investment in vocational education, $4 billion in infrastructure funding, increases in K-12 and college funding and the creation of a “public retirement option for small businesses.”

Whitmer says she would help diversify the economy by partnering with research institutions, expanding broadband internet to rural areas, and improving everything from roads to the Soo Locks.

I will take immediate steps to grow our workforce, attract and retain talent, and foster economic prosperity,” Whitmer said, adding that public investments will “promote the quality of life that helps businesses grow.”

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