Where Michigan governor primary winners Schuette and Whitmer stand on issues

The Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates for Michigan governor have vastly different approaches to addressing the state’s most critical challenges.

Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Democratic former Sen. Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer took home their party’s crowns Tuesday night, capping months of fierce competition. (Libertarian Bill Gelineau, meanwhile, was well ahead early Wednesday in his contested primary.)  

Throughout the 2018 primary campaign season, Bridge Magazine has asked the candidates to outline their plans for tackling some of the biggest issues facing Michigan. Here’s what Tuesday night’s winners previously told us.

Gretchen Whitmer | Bill Schuette | Bill Gelineau

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer

Infrastructure

Whitmer said access to clean, safe drinking water and roads and bridges in good condition are priorities.

“As governor, I will capitalize the state infrastructure bank and task a permanent state infrastructure advisory council with creating comprehensive, coordinated planning,” she said via email sent by then-campaign spokeswoman Annie Ellison. “Together, we're going to put thousands of Michiganders to work rebuilding our roads, updating our electrical and heating grids and ensuring that everyone has access to clean water and high-speed internet.”

Whitmer said current funding levels for infrastructure are inadequate, and that she would begin to address the $4 billion annual funding gap (“far and away the reason why our roads are so dangerous,” she said) identified by the infrastructure commission by investing an extra $3 billion per year up front.

“Recent plans rely on future legislators to pull funding from the state’s general fund to make less than adequate investments in infrastructure,” she said via email. “It’s a flawed plan that will not work.”

Whitmer did not say where extra funding would come from. Ellison said via email she “will be ready to work with the Legislature to find the necessary funding, but is also willing to go directly to voters to fix the problem.” She also did not say what other government programs or priorities might have to take a hit as a result.

Fixing the roads

Whitmer campaigned with the tagline: “Fix the Damn Roads.” Whitmer pitches an infrastructure bank, known as the Rebuild Michigan Bank, to pay for roads, bridges, water systems and broadband internet. It would offer loans and grants for infrastructure funding and leverage existing money from local, state and federal governments. Low-interest loans could be used as a state match to federal funding, and the bank could act as a revolving loan fund for municipal projects.

She also said she would consult industry leaders to design a statewide infrastructure council to coordinate road projects with other needs, such as replacing drinking water lines or sewer systems, at the same time.

How she would pay for it: Would invest $2 billion annually in state funds and $1 billion in federal funds into the bank for 10 years. The state money would primarily come from new user fees (possibly including gas taxes and registration fees). Those fees would leverage the federal money. Said she would work with the Legislature to enact user fees, and ask voters to pass a statewide bond if legislative action is unsuccessful.

Quote: “(I)f I can't get the Legislature (to support an infrastructure bank), if they're too weak to do the work, then I'm going to go straight to the people and pass a bond and we'll go right around the Legislature if we have to.”

Read Gretchen Whitmer's plan to fix Michigan roads here.

Jobs and the economy

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Repeal the retirement tax,” a reference to a 2011 change to the Michigan tax code signed by Snyder that taxed public and private pension income. That change was expected to cost pension-receiving recipients $343 million in fiscal 2012-13.
  • Offer high school graduates two years of debt-free community college, skilled trades training or the equivalent aid for attending a four-year university. She has not detailed how she would fund its estimated $100 million annual cost.
  • Consider hiking motor vehicle “user fees” to pay for a state infrastructure bank capitalized with up to $2 billion in new state bond debt each year for a decade. This would leverage an additional $1 billion a year in local, federal and private funding for state infrastructure.
  • Diversify the economy by partnering with research institutions, expanding broadband internet to rural areas, and improving everything from roads to the Soo Locks.
  • Expand training for those on food stamps by tapping into a 50-50 federal match for such training.
  • Repeal the right-to-work law.
  • Quote: “Many Michigan families are struggling to get by. We have an economy of Haves and Have-Nots.”

Taxes and spending

Spending:

  • Reform state education with universal pre-kindergarten education, tripling the number of elementary school reading coaches, adding school counselors and nurses, and making it easier to get state-aid on child care.
  • Raise pay for teachers.
  • Start a two-year “scholarship” that allows Michigan residents to attend two years of post-secondary education, including skills or vocational training, for free at any point in their life –  either right after high school or in mid-career.
  • Fix the damn roads,” by creating a “bank” from which to pull money for road, water, sewer and high-speed Internet infrastructure.

Taxes:

  • Pay for the “Rebuild Michigan Bank” in part with user fees. That would require legislative approval; if lawmakers balk, Whitmer would ask voters to approve a bond, which are loans that would have to be repaid. She doesn’t say from what sources that debt would be paid. Bridge asked her campaign for an explanation.
  • Pay for education reforms by devoting all of the money in the state’s school aid fund to fund K-12 education. In recent years, $3.4 billion has been taken out to pay for other areas,including higher ed.
  • Repeal the tax on retirement income that was allowed following the 2011 tax reform package championed by Snyder. She does not say how the money lost by repeal would be made up and her campaign did not respond to questions from Bridge seeking further information.

K-12 education

What state has a K-12 education system you admire, and name a specific policy in that state that Michigan should emulate.

Massachusetts has done a great job of ensuring that all students have a quality public education by funding school districts equitably. They calculate how much local funding each school district can provide, then determine how much state funding is needed to supplement the remaining amount required. Michigan needs to do a better job of targeting education funding to meet the needs of every student. If we approach our education system with the goal of supporting our districts equitably, we can put every student in Michigan on a path to a good-paying job that pays them well enough so they can support their families.” (Whitmer’s education plan is described here.)

The base per-pupil funding for Michigan public schools is $7,871. What is the proper level of per-pupil funding, and why?

According to the School Finance Research Collaborative, it takes a minimum of $9,590 to properly educate a child, but that cost doesn’t account for students in need of additional support, such as English language learners, students in special education, and students living in poverty. We’ve got to fund our schools equitably and make sure every child has the wraparound support they need to get ahead.”

Michigan’s social studies standards are being revised. You can read a story about some of the proposed revisions here. Do you agree with the proposed changes to social studies standards, and why?

“No, I do not agree with the proposed changes. Our students can’t get a full understanding of American history without discussing landmark Supreme Court cases, catalysts of the Civil Rights Movement and the ideals on which our laws are built. Extreme politicians like Pat Colbeck who don’t know the first thing about educating students shouldn’t have anything to do with rewriting history lessons to fit a partisan political agenda. If we want our next generation of leaders to be able to take on the challenges we’ll face in the future, we’ve got to make sure they have a well-rounded understanding of America’s past.”

Should third-graders be retained in grade if they are not proficient readers, and what research can you point to that backs up your position?

“We need to ensure our students have the support they need to be literate by the end of third grade, but we also shouldn’t punish students because our leaders have failed to make public education a priority in Michigan. Studies have shown that investing in quality early childhood education is one of the best ways to encourage lifetime literacy. My ‘Better Schools Now’ education plan will move Michigan to universal preschool, triple the number of literacy coaches in Michigan and give students the in-school wraparound support they need – like counselors, social workers, school nurses, school security, healthy meals and safe transportation. We’re going to reimagine public education and provide quality classroom learning and education that starts at birth.”

College affordability

“As Governor, my administration will establish the MI Opportunity Scholarship to give every student the chance to get the skills they need to compete for good-paying jobs, whether college is right for them or not. The MI Opportunity Scholarship may be used at skilled training programs, community colleges or four-year universities for two years of debt-free postsecondary education.

“To participate in the program, students will be required to have skin in the game by: maintaining a high attendance record and a good GPA for the preceding three years of high school; enrolling full-time and completing eight hours of community service per marking period; and participating in a mentoring program to assist with career navigation.

“Tennessee has a similar program, called the Tennessee Promise, which gives students the opportunity to attend a skilled trade school or community college debt-free for two years. After implementing this program, the statewide college-going rate increased by over five percentage points. In an interview with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, Whitmer said she estimates the cost of her program at $100 million. “I think when you’ve got a $50 billion budget, $100 million is a small piece of what I think is in the budget to pay for this and I think we would find fantastic return on that kind of an investment,” Whitmer said.

Urban policies

Whitmer went on an urban agenda listening tour last fall that took her to Detroit, Pontiac, Saginaw, Benton Harbor, Flint, Muskegon and Grand Rapids. It resulted in a 19-page plan called “Get it Done: Fighting Urban Poverty” released by her campaign in late July. The plan stipulates she would work with and support local leaders, but identifies few funding sources:

  • Lower auto insurance rates by ending redlining.
  • Appoint a cabinet-level position to combat poverty.
  • Increase the earned income tax credit from 6 percent to 20 percent.
  • Direct an unspecified amount of public security and placemaking dollars to city programs focused on improving city lighting.
  • Support the increased use of body cameras by police; work to prevent gun violence with universal criminal background checks. The plan makes no mention of costs.
  • Help tenants of foreclosed residential property by implementing a statewide right of first refusal system by helping them buy the home or remain as renters.
  • Add incentives for developers to build affordable housing.
  • Expand the Office of Minority Health to spearhead task forces, partner with community leaders and collaborate with research universities to develop research on health disparities and how best to combat them.

Medicaid work requirements

“The health of Michiganders and Michigan’s economy is paramount,” Whitmer said via email. “I worked across the aisle to make Healthy Michigan a reality and because of our bipartisan effort, 680,000 more people have coverage today.

Senate Bill 897 (Shirkey’s bill) simply takes coverage away from people, which will hurt the workforce and cost the state federal dollars. As governor, I will fight to ensure every Michigander has access to quality, affordable health care by strengthening and expanding Healthy Michigan, not taking it away from people.”

Funding for toxic cleanups

“These sites are man-made disasters, and we must address them. We need to have the resources on hand to keep Michiganders safe – and that includes the long-term recovery efforts around the Flint Water Crisis, managing contamination sites including PFAs, and being ready to respond immediately to any unpredictable environmental disasters. We must identify a long-term funding source to support these projects and keep people safe – whether that’s a bond, a dedicated funding stream, or by making sure that the polluters pay their fair share of the long-term cleanup efforts,” Whitmer said via email.

Lead pipes

"The Flint water crisis is an unforgettable failure of government at every level. Above all, the people of Michigan should be able to trust that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in. Lowering the lead and copper rule to 10 ppb is a start, but shouldn’t be the end goal because we need to limit exposure to lead as much as possible in communities across Michigan. Frankly, efforts to expedite the process of replacing lead lines should have happened years ago. Michigan should be a worldwide leader in water policy, not scurrying to catch up to be just a little better than the bare minimum requires,” Whitmer said via email.

Red flag” gun bills

"Our law enforcement are sworn to protect our communities, and we must give them the tools they need to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who would do harm,” Whitmer wrote in an email. “I support this bill, it gives another tool to law enforcement and families to prevent tragedy."

For a more in-depth look at where Gretchen Whitmer, the former Senate Minority Leader, stands on a variety of issues, watch her July interview with Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative here.

Republican Bill Schuette

Fixing the roads

Road plan: Attorney General Schuette has not released a road plan, though spokesman John Sellek emailed Bridge with five strategies Schuette would pursue:

  • A “top to bottom audit and review” of MDOT practices to increase “miles paved per gallon,” to ensure MDOT is “operating at peak efficiency.”
  • Stronger warranties on road and bridge projects to make them more enforceable.
  • Obtaining more federal funding.
  • Directing presumed savings from the repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law to roads, and
  • Making roads a higher priority within the state budget.

Says his plan would raise: Undetermined. Schuette did not place a dollar figure on how much his roads plan would generate. He said during a GOP primary debate in June that repealing prevailing wage could free up $250 million; his campaign cited several studies.

Quote: “Life’s about priorities,” Schuette said during a Republican debate in Detroit. “We need to make Michigan a priority in our roads.”

Jobs and the economy

  • Eliminate Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s income tax hike. That refers to legislation passed in 2007 under Granholm to raise the income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent, with the expectation it would be rolled back to 3.9 percent over a period of years. It now stands at 4.25 percent.
  • Reform auto insurance, saying “everybody has to give up a little bit to make it better for everyone.”
  • Establish a skilled trade career training plan that, among other proposals, would “redirect existing state resources toward vocational education and the advanced teacher training necessary to make our programs cutting-edge and the best in the nation.”
  • Quote: “I’m a fighter with the guts and the vision to write our next chapter.”

Taxes and spending

Spending:

  • Improve state reading scores by putting a “reading coach” in every elementary school in the state and appointing a state literacy director in his cabinet.
  • Start new training opportunities to return jobless adults back into the workforce.
  • Encourage schools to build facilities that serve both students during the day and the community during non-school hours. Part of the plan includes improving the economy, which would improve bond ratings to borrow money. On a $10 million project, a half-percentage point lower interest rate would save a school district $2,400 a month in payments, or $600,000 over 20 years.
  • Encourage public-private partnerships. Schuette wants the state to create a “digital hub” for student internships and opportunities.

Taxes:

  • Oppose new taxes. Schuette said he can fund his spending priorities by cutting “wasteful or unsuccessful” programs, which he doesn’t identify.
  • Roll the income tax rate back to 3.9 percent. Schuette’s plan does not specify how he would compensate for the lost funds.
  • Has signed the Americans for Tax Reform “pledge” to vote against any and all tax increases.

K-12 education

What state has a K-12 education system you admire, and name a specific policy in that state that Michigan should emulate.

Schuette did not respond to Bridge’s questions. His education agenda on his campaign website does not list any states which he admires for education policies.

The base per-pupil funding for Michigan public schools is $7,871. What is the proper level of per-pupil funding, and why?

Schuette’s website doesn’t address funding levels for schools, but does call for consistent funding from year to year, so schools have more ability to plan ahead.

Michigan’s social studies standards are being revised. You can read a story about some of the proposed revisions here. Do you agree with the proposed changes to social studies standards, and why?

Schuette not respond to Bridge’s questions.

Should third-graders be retained in grade if they are not proficient readers, and what research can you point to that backs up your position?

Schuette released a 10-point plan in March to boost literacy in Michigan. Parts of the plan include the appointment of a state literacy director, school reading mentors, summer reading programs and “dedicated reading centers,” which could be school libraries. The plan did not address the state’s third-grade “read-or-flunk” policy.

College affordability

Schuette’s campaign website says Michigan should “make it easier for students to complete college credits during high school or fast-track through community college programs,” which would help decrease college costs.

Urban policies

Schuette’s eight-pronged plan pledges to roll back taxes, improve schools and attract new jobs among other changes. The issues Schuette would address for urban areas, are the same issues he would address in the rest of the state, his campaign says. His plan for cities would include growing population by:

  • Increase reading scores by appointing a literacy director, who would be stationed in the governor’s office and create a Michigan Reading Foundation to raise money privately for more reading coaches and summer reading camps.
  • Provide transportation grants or incentives for children trapped in failing schools so they have additional options. The plan does not include cost specifics.
  • Redirect an unspecified amount of  existing state resources toward vocational education and advanced teacher training.
  • Reduce school violence by expanding the state’s OK2SAY school safety program that allows students to submit confidential tips.
  • Slash auto insurance rates by cracking down on fraud, ending frivolous lawsuits with tort reform and giving Michigan residents choices in terms of their insurance coverage.

Medicaid work requirements

Schuette supports the bill introduced by state Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“Michigan has a responsibility to reevaluate and ensure that taxpayer-funded programs are not only efficient but that they are ensuring the best outcomes,” Schuette said in an emailed statement. “Welfare programs must always be judged on their ability to give a hand up to citizens in need of help and by their ability to identify and eliminate hurdles to helping able-bodied citizens find a place in our workforce. This is especially vital at a time in which Michigan has thousands of unfilled jobs, combined with a shrinking workforce that is limiting our growth and ability to compete with the fastest-growing states.

“If this common-sense reform (is) not implemented this year, as governor I will work toward its passage in 2019.”

Funding for toxic cleanups

Did not respond.

Lead pipes

Did not respond.

Red flag” gun bills

"America is facing a mental health crisis and we must find ways to provide resources to help those who are hurting or may hurt others. In particular, school violence was a major concern for Attorney General Schuette when he took office, and that is why he worked with the Michigan State Police and schools to create Michigan’s OK2SAY school safety initiative," spokesman John Sellek wrote in an email. "In the bigger picture, Attorney General Schuette also has deep concerns with the general coarsening of our culture, where casual violence and killing is treated as mere entertainment, especially when it is directed at our youth. We have not seen these bills but we will look at them as we review all the factors that may play a role in finding more solutions, like OK2SAY, to stop violence.

March 9 update: Schuette tells Gongwer news service that "The due process issue is of great concern to me," in regards to "red flag" laws. "The first focus ought to be mental health and mental illness," he said.

Libertarian Bill Gelineau

Fixing the roads

  • Gelineau, a title insurance agent and former chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, has not published a specific road proposal, but shared some ideas with Bridge via email. He has advocated for reducing the state’s government spending cap, eliminating most of the Michigan Strategic Fund and indicated that roads can be repaired if made a priority in the state budget.
  • Would reduce costs for state prisons (such as by commuting marijuana convictions), state police and courts and use $750 million in savings to fix roads.
  • Would direct revenue from legalization of recreational marijuana to roads, should a ballot proposal pass in November.
  • Create some tolls on freeways and rework the formula that distributes state dollars to road projects in counties and cities.

Says his plan would raise: At least $750 million, plus redirected revenue from pot and reducing the Michigan Strategic Fund. He does not address the full $2.6 billion funding gap cited by the infrastructure commission.

Quote: “With focus on the proper priorities, we can repair our infrastructure, make needed repairs and make needed investments without blowing the budget wide open,” Gelineau wrote on his campaign website.

Jobs and the economy

  • Lower annual state revenue allowed under the Headlee Amendment – approved by voters in 1978 – from 9.49 percent of all personal income to 8.55 percent.
  • Eliminate the Michigan Strategic Fund, which has broad authority to create economic development. In May, for example, it approved more than $600 million in tax incentives for $2 billion in proposed Detroit development projects.
  • Back expansion of renewable energy, in part by allowing residential producers to write off renewable investments “like any business.”
  • Support marijuana legalization but divert no more than 20 percent of  revenue from its taxation. The remainder of revenue should “go directly back to taxpayers in the form of an equalized tax credit.” (The legalization proposal on the November ballot would send 35 percent of revenues to K-12 education, 35 percent to roads, 15 percent to communities that allow marijuana businesses and 15 percent to counties where marijuana business are located.)
  • Quote: “Government should not be subsidizing businesses. Period.”

Taxes and spending

Spending:

  • Legalize marijuana and redirect the majority of taxes on them, 80 percent, to taxpayers through an equalized tax credit. Gelineau says marijuana shouldn’t be taxed at a higher rate than other items. A legalization referendum on  the ballot in November would tax it at 10 percent, which would raise $100 million to $200 million per year.
  • Eliminate the Michigan Strategic Fund, a state agency that doles out a host of tax credits that divert over $500 million per year from the state government per year, according to the Citizens Research Council.   
  • “Repair our infrastructure” by focusing on “proper priorities,” which Gelineau doesn’t specify.

Taxes:

  • Change the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution, a 1978 law that limits the growth of the state budget by mandating that all taxes, fees and other revenue sources cannot exceed 9.49 percent of personal income in Michigan. Gelineau would drop the cap to 8.55 percent –  which require approval from two-thirds of the Legislature since it would change the constitution.
  • Fund environmental cleanups by perhaps taxing companies that use toxic materials.

K-12 education

What state has a K-12 education system you admire, and name a specific policy in that state that Michigan should emulate.

Washington. One of the key areas of concern for me is bullying. This creates an atmosphere where students can’t focus, it can interrupt class time, and (is) overall disruptive to the learning process.   The State of Washington has adopted a comprehensive plan which has been effective. Michigan actually rates very good (and by some rates better than Washington) – but, the WA program seems to provide a more effective understanding. This is a tough subject with no easy answers, but I have worked consistently to raise awareness.”

The base per-pupil funding for Michigan public schools is $7,871. What is the proper level of per-pupil funding, and why?

This is probably the wrong question and drives from a bias that most education issues are funding related. There are well document studies by the Heritage Foundation and others that show spending does not correspond to achievement. Several points:

“a) Taxes are just as much a burden to families (and perhaps more so) than the optional cost of college expressed in Question 3. The real question here is how to we make parents better consumers of education?

“b) In this vein, and regarding funding: Some (institutional) education critics have complaints about charter schools and other alternatives to public schools. Why is it that each time a charter school is created, we have an instant waiting list? Even in a phony democracy, the PEOPLE should get what they want once in a while. Charter schools are wildly popular – indicating that we need more choices free from the education bureaucracy.

“c) I’m for limiting the tax limitation effects of Proposal A. The tax “gap” between market value and taxable value is an unjustified social transfer to the higher income properties (who, by definition, are owned by higher income people). This disparity has resulted in a higher tax “load” being carried by fewer people and a demonstrable shift to the poor. This would take a Constitutional Amendment, but I believe that tax limitation should be set at no greater than $50,000 per homeowner – and should not exist at all for non-residential properties. But, before you see this as an economic windfall for schools and others – I also think we need to resurrect the millage cap that was deleted with the passage of Proposal A.”

Michigan’s social studies standards are being revised. You can read a story about some of the proposed revisions here. Do you agree with the proposed changes to social studies standards, and why?

The ‘sanitation’ of our curriculum led by Sen. Colbeck is simply wrong-headed. Social studies should be developed as a place to consider history from different perspectives – presenting a wide range of ideas about how we interpret history and social interaction. Both the Democrats and Republicans have used education as a wedge in their culture war – which most Americans find offensive.

“Projecting our own fears of the future onto our children is one of the most unhealthy things we can do. I’m for a more inclusive society that isn’t fearful of others that aren’t like us. We should work to provide the earliest age-appropriate exposure to opportunities to learn about other religions, races, sexual identities and more.  

“Most people understand that they can often learn from children. That’s because they don’t possess the biases of adults. With all the other issues facing students in Michigan, Mr. Colbeck would be well served to focus on more pressing problems.”

Should third-graders be retained in grade if they are not proficient readers, and what research can you point to that backs up your position?

Many education professionals have argued the effectiveness or usefulness of holding kids back. There are dozens of studies that have looked at retention or redshirting methods of helping kids. The National Bureau of Economic Research studies have expressed macro concerns about later-age development issues which result in dropout and criminality amongst children who are age-deferred. I would focus more resources on remedial catch-up to grade level. Reading skills are essential to prevent “tracking” kids into lower level opportunities.”

College affordability

“I’m a supporter of deferred college entrance (which allows students to earn more resources for college); accredited transfer of Community College credits; and alternative training opportunities. My budget reduces the singular focus on higher education as a government priority – instead, creating a market-basket choice for students to direct resources.

“Many voices are questioning the use of college as a goal for all kids. And the use of subsidies direct to colleges creates a negative redistribution curve to the upper income quintiles.”

Urban policies

Of the three key topics on Gelineau’s public platform, legalization of marijuana and replacing infrastructure are the one that likely resonates in cities. Gelineau would:

  • Legalize marijuana and redirect the majority of taxes on them, 80 percent, to taxpayers through an equalized tax credit. Gelineau says marijuana shouldn’t be taxed at a higher rate than other items. A legalization referendum on the ballot in November would tax it at 10 percent, which would raise $100 million to $200 million per year.
  • Work with cities to replace aging infrastructure such as water pipes. His plan is silent on costs, but mentions repealing regulations that require residents to hook into municipal water systems. That may help avert a situation similar to the Flint Water Crisis.

Learn more about where the Libertarian candidates stand on these and other issues.

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Comments

Matt
Thu, 08/09/2018 - 5:51am

We have two major candidates each with their own deep belief in a cosmic money tree, not a spec of creativity, or original thinking. Cut taxes, sure,! Raise Min wage to $15? Just go to the money tree! s Just a splatter bast of moronic platitudes designed to appeal to the unthinking. A wasted opportunity!

Willie Wilson
Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:44am

Center Right (Whitmer) vs. Loony Right (Schuette). It's a clear choice.