By Ben Coleman
Republican candidates for the 20th Senate District gave their views on how the Michigan economy can overcome its decade-long fall from grace Friday at the Beacon Club in Portage.
The three GOP candidates, State Representatives Larry Deshazor and Tonya Schuitmaker and former Rep. Lorence Wenke, spoke about their positions on government and how to fix the economy, the right type of taxes for Michigan businesses and the right benefit structure for legislators and state employees while occasionally but cordially prodding at each other’s records in a public forum hosted by the Kalamazoo Republican Women’s Association.
An Aug. 3 primary is set to decide who will be the GOP nominee for the 20th district, which was vacated by gubernatorial candidate and term-limited Sen. Tom George.
A Little Sparring:
“This is what I mean by career politicians,” Wenke said, referring to Schuitmaker’s decision to cancel her state-funded healthcare benefits and air fare in an election year.
Schuitmaker had told the crowd that she “walks the walk and talks the talk,” when it comes to reducing spending. She fired back at Wenke saying he had voted for higher income taxes and the Michigan Business Tax surcharge, which she voted against.
Wenke opened his statements by painting a familiar picture for those who follow him.
“A legislator gets into office with the largest salary they’ve ever made and starts to think ‘how do I hang onto this,’” Wenke said. “They vote for special interests in order to keep their job. That’s why we need a part-time legislature.”
Deshazor, a 17-year veteran in the insurance industry, said that his job as a Representative is the lowest-paying salary he has ever earned and Wenke’s story doesn’t apply.
Taxes and the Economy:
“If there’s anything the film credit has shown, it’s that if you lower taxes on businesses, you will create a thriving industry,” Schuitmaker said.
Deshazor and Wenke agree with that sentiment and all of the candidates said they want to pass right-to-work laws, which allow non-union workers to work for a company that has a union.
The candidates agree on lowering taxes and easing regulation to boost the economy but their ideas vary on how to do that and how to shore up money in state government.
“We can invest in public safety, infrastructure and education,” Deshazor said. “There’s no need for new taxes.”
Schuitmaker, having canceled her state-funded insurance, resounded the call of the candidates that lawmakers should give up their lifetime healthcare benefits.
“There are difficult decisions that need to be made on public employees and I’m willing to make those,” she said.
Wenke has called for an increase on lawmakers’ insurance premiums to shore up what he estimates to be a billion dollars in state savings. By making lawmakers, including the governor and attorney general, pay 25 percent, which he estimates to be the private sector average for an employee, the State saves 15 to 20 percent on insurance costs.
“No one in the private sector could get by paying that much for their employees, GM can’t do it, Wenke Greenhouses couldn’t do it, why does the public pay for it,” Wenke said.
Deshazor said he will try to pass a bill that would require the state to pass a balanced budget by May.
“If we don’t, public officials, including the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor, forfeit their pay until it is passed,” Deshazor said.