Pension vote claims don't hold up in legislative primary, Truth Squad finds

Who: Michael Shmina for State Representative, 32nd District

What: mailer, robocall

Truth Squad calls: Foul, Technical fouls and no foul

In a mailer and robocall, challenger Michael Shmina makes various claims about incumbent state Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, whom he faces in the Republican primary for the 32nd House District in Macomb County. Shmina touts himself as a long-time resident of the district, with job experience in the private sector, including job-creation experience, in contrast to LaFontaine.

Questionable statement: LaFontaine has not paid property taxes in the district -- and has not lived in the district for more than 10 years.

LaFontaine was born in New Baltimore and lived with her parents when she was elected, in Richmond Township. However, when redistricting sliced them out of the district, LaFontaine moved six-tenths of a mile away and into the new version of the 32nd District, in Columbus Township, where she is a renter, her campaign spokesman states.

Questionable statement: LaFontaine was not a supporter of the motorcycle helmet law repeal.

She did vote against the helmet-law repeal.

Questionable statement: LaFontaine is "in the pocket of the insurance industry."

Shmina’s claim is based on the fact she has received campaign contributions from that sector, $4,000 out of a total $18,527, or 22 percent, according to Project Vote Smart.

Questionable statement: LaFontaine voted to tax retirement pensions.

Michigan once didn’t tax public-employee pensions at all, and exempted up to $45,000 of individual private pension income. Gov. Rick Snyder’s first-year budget proposal in the spring of 2011 called for such a levy. It eventually passed, with compromises made for the age of recipients, with the oldest continuing to enjoy the tax break, and the full effect reserved for those born after 1952.

The reforms passed in a package of bills, for separate branches of public service. Private pensions were covered in a separate bill, and the budget itself was approved in an omnibus bill.

LaFontaine, however, broke with most of her party, voting against repealing pension tax exemptions – that is, to not tax pensions as regular income – in all but one case, for legislators, and that vote was 109-0. She was among a handful of Republicans who wanted to keep the pension income exemption for state employees, school employees, city library employees, and for judges. She also voted against the private-pension exemption reform, which was bundled with several other revenue reforms.

However, she did vote for the omnibus budget bill, which passed along party lines, 62-47)

Overall impression: Shmina, 45, is taking advantage of a nearly 20-year age difference over the 26-year-old LaFontaine in portraying himself as a well-established businessman and taxpayer.

Truth Squad calls: Multiple calls for multiple claims.

Shmina’s representations of LaFontaine’s vote on the helmet law is sound. No foul.

LaFontaine accepted money from insurance industry sources. She is not the only legislator or legislative candidate to do so. During his own 2010 run for office, Shmina received campaign contributions from a variety of sources; $1,250 out of the $15,662 he raised in the primary period came from a single source, Associated General Contractors of Lansing. When you subtract Shmina's personal contributions ($10,316) from the total, the AGC amount becomes $1,250 out of $5,346 -- or 23 percent. Technical foul.

LaFontaine’s status as a renter doesn’t mean she doesn’t pay taxes, as it is a common business practice for landlords to fold their tax costs into their rental calculations. Her longevity in the district is a matter of hair-splitting, as she has spent all of her life, with the exception of her college years in Mount Pleasant, in the Anchor Bay area, her campaign states. Technical foul for Shmina there.

Shmina’s representation of LaFontaine's pension-tax position is the most troubling aspect of these campaign materials.

LaFontaine clearly made her intentions known in her voting in 2011, opposing all but one of the individual bills that called for taxing pensions as regular income, with the exception of the one covering legislators’ pensions, which passed the House without a dissenting vote. Calling out her vote for the final budget bill – which was based on the imposition of pension taxes – as an indication of support may, in the most pedantic sense, be correct, but such a claim distorts her overall voting record on the issue in 2011. Foul.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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