Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appealed for a second term during a debate Sunday by pointing to Michigan’s economic turnaround and Detroit’s progress toward emerging from bankruptcy, while Democratic challenger Mark Schauer accused Snyder of cutting education funding and criticized him for raising taxes on retirees.
In their only debate before the Nov. 4 election, the sparring grew testy on issues such as taxes, state and local finances, and the candidates’ political experience. Recent polls showed Snyder, a former computer executive and venture capitalist, with a slight edge over Schauer, a former congressman and state lawmaker.
Snyder told an audience of roughly 100 uncommitted voters at Wayne State University in Detroit — and many more watching on TV — that backing a state emergency manager’s decision to take Detroit into bankruptcy was the “right decision” and “one of the toughest decisions to be made in the United States.”
“Look at where we are today. We’re within a month to two months most likely of coming out of bankruptcy” and shedding $9 billion in Detroit liabilities, Snyder said of the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy.
Schauer said he would never have allowed retiree pensions be cut. A centerpiece to the Detroit debt restructuring plan is an agreement for foundations, businesses and the state to contribute more than $800 million to soften cuts to pensions.
“Our (state) constitution is clear. Pensions are guaranteed,” Schauer said.
Snyder countered that workers and retirees approved the pension cuts that were essential to the so-called “grand bargain” that may allow Detroit to shed debt.
Schauer stood by his assertion that Snyder cut more than $1 billion in overall education funding and blasted a measure passed under Snyder to tax the retirement income of pensioners.
“Rick cut taxes for businesses by $1.8 billion,” Schauer said. “He raised taxes on working families, low-wage earners and yes — on pensioners — by $1.4 billion.”
Snyder said state-based K-12 spending is up more than $1 billion from when he took office and defended the 2011 tax overhaul, saying owners of small- and medium-sized businesses were wrongly taxed on business and individual income. The changes made the system fairer, he said.
Schauer fired back: “Our accountant governor is missing some columns on his spreadsheet and it’s called people.”
During the town hall-style debate hosted by Detroit Public Television and moderated by editorial page editors from the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, Snyder was asked about a pending federal appeals court decision on Michigan’s gay marriage ban.
“I will respect what happens in our court system,” he said, declining to give his personal stance on same-sex marriage. He opposed gay marriage in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Schauer, who supports gay marriage, said voters deserve to know where Snyder stands, and he criticized the governor for signing a law banning benefits for the same-sex partners of state employees.
The candidates also sparred over their political experience. Schauer said the “CEO governor” who never held public office before winning election in 2012 does not know how to work with the Republican-led Legislature. Snyder said Schauer was a legislative leader when the state government was briefly shut down during a 2007 budget crisis and suggested he would return “Washington” gridlock to Lansing, the state’s capital.
There was no discussion over another of the major laws Snyder signed, a right-to-work measure that made it voluntary for unionized employees to pay union dues and which Democrats are hoping will mobilize their voter base to oust Snyder.
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