GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Three out of the five Republicans running for governor inMichigan said Monday they would get rid of at least some corporatetaxes but sparred over who could best repair the state's strugglingeconomy.
U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder andstate Sen. Tom George answered questions posed by Booth Newspaperspolitical reporter Peter Luke and Detroit News columnist NolanFinley at an evening debate held at the WGVU-TV studio in GrandRapids.
Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff MikeBouchard said they had scheduling conflicts and couldn'tattend.
Hoekstra, Snyder and George agreed that the 2-year-old MichiganBusiness Tax can be decreased, although they differed on theamount. The tax now raises about $2.2 billion a year.
Hoekstra said he wants to eliminate the MBT and eventually getrid of the personal property tax businesses pay on computers andequipment. He didn't say he would replace the lost revenue.
Snyder said he wants to go to a 6 percent corporate income taxto replace the MBT, which he says applies unequally to similarbusinesses and is too complicated. His proposal would replace about$700 million of the lost MBT revenue.
George said he wants to get rid of the 22 percent surchargeadded to the MBT when it took effect. But he warned his competitorsmay be ignoring the need to balance the state budget as theypromise to cut taxes but also add funding for some programs.
"I voted for balanced budgets. I've done it for 10 years. I didit last week," George said after the debate. "You elect one ofthese guys, the check to your public school might bounce in thefirst quarter of 2011."
Asked if they would cut the pay of public school teachers andother public workers, the three agreed that public salaries andbenefits need to come down.
"Look at the private sector. Look at what happened in theautomotive industry, and the sacrifices those people have made,"Snyder said. "We need to look at whole compensation and come upwith a solution that isn't a one-year solution or a two-yearsolution, but a 10- and 20-year solution."
Hoekstra agreed, saying "it's a reflection of the condition thatthe state's in."
He added, however, that if public employees make sacrifices nowto help the state turn around, "you may get a bonus in the futureif you fundamentally help change the state."
George said he voted earlier this year to stop state workersfrom getting a 3 percent pay raise on Oct. 1. The raise will takeeffect because lawmakers couldn't get a two-thirds vote in theHouse and Senate to eliminate it, but George said it's too muchmoney for the state to spend this year.
Snyder said the state needs to emphasize arts and culture tocreate cities attractive to young college graduates, noting thethousands of people attracted to downtown Grand Rapids last fall bythe first annual ArtPrize competition.
But Hoekstra said putting money into "cool cities" initiativeswon't help if young adults have to leave the state to findwork.
"A 'cool city' to our young people is a city with a job," hesaid.
Although all five Republicans running for governor participatedlast month in an East Lansing debate sponsored by the MichiganRepublican Party, the candidates haven't appeared in a debate sincesome of them began running negative ads earlier this month abouttheir opponents. The ads are just one sign that the infighting isgetting fiercer as the candidates struggle to make an impression onMichigan voters before the Aug. 3 primary election.
Hoekstra, who has been the target of two negative ads run by theCox campaign, said the attack ads are bringing more volunteers anddonations to his campaign.
"Keep it coming, man," he said. "You're only helping me."
George took an indirect swipe at Cox, saying voters want morethan a candidate who will "run negative ads and duck debates."
Snyder repeated a line from his own campaign ad, saying thecampaign must involve "less bickering."
The hour-long debate will air Tuesday night onmost public broadcasting stations statewide. It also will beavailable on the websites of the Center for Michigan andMiVote.org, which coordinated the event.
It's part of the Great Debate 2010 series sponsored by business,labor and advocacy groups to promote a broader discussion of issuesabout Michigan's future. The groups will host a secondgubernatorial debate July 15 in Detroit at WTVS with the twoDemocratic candidates, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House SpeakerAndy Dillon, as well as post-primary debates for legislativecandidates in 50 swing districts.
24 Hour News 8 will host gubernatorial debates in June , also at GVSU. The Democrats will face each other June 21, and the GOP will debate June 24.
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