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Whitmer: Proposal 3, abortion rights will help Michigan ‘steal’ jobs from Ohio

whitmer, tudor dixon
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Tudor Dixon traded barbs about taxes and job growth during separate talks Friday before the Detroit Economic Club.
  • Whitmer, Dixon pitched competing jobs, tax plans to Detroit Economic Club
  • Democratic incumbent argued abortion is an economic issue
  • GOP challenger proposed tax cuts, deregulation

DETROIT – Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon courted Michigan business leaders on Friday with competing plans to create jobs and develop a talented workforce to fill them. 

Speaking to members of the Detroit Economic Club, Dixon touted her plan to cut and eventually phase out the slate’s 4.25 percent income tax, vowed to slash up to 40 percent of business regulations and criticized Whitmer’s decision to block plans for a tribal casino in Muskegon County.

In a separate appearance before the same crowd, Whitmer touted recently announced economic development projects facilitated by a new state incentive program, along with skilled trades and college tuition assistance plans she negotiated with the GOP-led Legislature. 

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The first-term Democrat argued that ensuring legal access to abortion — which will also be on the ballot on Nov. 8 with Proposal 3 — is an important economic issue that could benefit the state. 

If voters approve the ballot measure, “I'm going to go into Indiana and Ohio and start stealing headquarters and cultivating talent,” Whitmer told business leaders, referencing neighboring states that passed laws banned most abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Enshrining abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution would allow her to “go to Purdue and talk to every woman engineer, as well as Ohio state, to tell them that in Michigan they can have full rights to make your own decision about your healthcare and your body and a great job,” the governor said. 

“I think we're going to have a powerful story to tell, and I’m really excited about telling it.”

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Dixon, who opposes legal abortion and has previously praised a 1931 ban that is currently suspended amid legal challenges, criticized the governor’s comments following their separate Economic Club appearances at the Motor City Casino. 

“I think that’s an odd economic plan,” Dixon told reporters. “I would love to see companies coming here because it’s the best place to do business. Like I said, our goal is to reduce regulation and bring businesses here because we’re the best place for them to actually live, play and work.”

Whitmer did not speak to reporters after the event because she was heading to Saginaw County for a groundbreaking ceremony at Hemlock Semiconductor, which is expected to create 170 jobs as part of a $375 million expansion.

Here are some other highlights from the candidate appearances before the Detroit Economic Club, where WDIV-TV reporter Christy McDonald asked Whitmer and Dixon the same set of questions.

Taxes

Dixon hammered Whitmer for vetoing GOP legislation that would have reduced the state’s income tax rate and temporarily suspended fuel taxes amid surging prices, arguing either could have provided relief from sky-high inflation. 

“I want to make sure that we get as much money back into the pockets of the people as we can,” Dixon said. 

Dixon, who previously worked as a conservative news host and in a family steel business, has proposed phasing out the state’s personal income tax, beginning with a cut from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent.

The Norton Shores Republican has not specified any potential spending cuts her plan may necessitate, but said she wants to phase out the $12 billion income tax in a “responsible way” over time. 

While Whitmer vetoed GOP tax cuts, she noted that proposed a shorter fuel tax holiday and has pitched her own plans to exempt retirement income from taxation and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families.

The governor also touted bipartisan bills she has signed to lower the cost of college tuition, skilled trades training and child care. 

“Because we put our fiscal house in order, and we have some resources on the balance sheet, we could still do some tax relief,” Whitmer said. 

Business incentives

While Michigan is down 82,000 jobs since Whitmer took office and has not fully recovered from pandemic-era losses, Whitmer touted planned job stemming from a new business incentive program she created with the GOP-led Legislature.

Lawmakers have so far put $1.6 billion into the Strategic Outreach And Attraction Reserve Fund, which the state has used to land multiple development projects, including General Motors electric vehicle battery facilities in Lake Orion and Lansing Township, and a Big Rapids plan planned by Gotion Inc, a Chinese-owned firm promising to bring thousands of jobs to northern Michigan.

"Michigan is now competing and winning landmark projects," Whitmer told the Detroit Economic Club. "When we think about how do we secure our economic future, it is building batteries. Where batteries are built, the rest of the EV will have to be assembled as well."

Dixon did not clearly say whether she would continue the incentive program but said that with any business incentives "we have to be careful to look at exactly what the return on investment is when we're giving out this amount of money."

She criticized the state for awarding $175 million in incentives to Gotion -—"a corporation that has ties to the Chinese Communist Party," she said — instead of "our own investors right here." 

Dixon said she would lure business by cutting 40 percent of business regulations. She has not identified each regulation she would cut but noted environmental wetland rules that delayed on project and lamented the plight of a Holland hair braider who cannot legally wash hair without a cosmetology license. 

"If we reduce regulation in this state, you will see a lot more people rising up to become small business owners," Dixon said. 

Education and job training

Michigan’s sluggish job numbers are largely the result of a lack of willing and able workers. 

The state’s labor force participation rate of 60.1 percent is below the national rate of 62.4 percent and trails 39 other states, posing a challenge for businesses with job openings that have not been able to fill. 

Whitmer said she is working to improve those numbers, noting her goal to ensure 60 percent of all Michigan adults have a college degree or skills certificate by 2030, up from 45 percent when she took office and around 50 percent currently.

Those efforts include the Michigan Reconnect Program, which the Whitmer administration said has already provided tuition-free community college and skilled trades training to more than 100,000 people, and the newly announced Achievement program that will offer college scholarships to students from families with demonstrated financial need.

"These are ways that we work with these employers who are growing in Michigan or relocating to Michigan to meet their workforce needs," she said. "Upskilling our adults ... and also making sure our young people have a path into these skills that doesn't put them into debt for the rest of their lives."

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While Whitmer has worked with the Legislature to increase K-12 funding, Dixon criticized the governor for ongoing academic struggles in public schools, where testing scores have dropped dramatically from pre-pandemic levels. 

The GOP challenger said Michigan should make sure students learn about skilled trades opportunities as early as sixth grade, and she said she would like to improve apprenticeship programs. 

Dixon reiterated her support for a voucher-like program that would create tax write-offs for scholarships that K-12 students could use to pay for private school or home-school supplies, in addition to traditional public or charter schools. 

“I want to make sure that we're funding our students instead of our systems, make sure that dollars are following the child and get our children back on track from a crisis in education,” Dixon said.

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