Republican candidates for governor on Thursday took the stage for a final pre-primary debate, fielding questions on tax incentives and how to fix the roads without raising taxes.
The candidates on the Republican side of the race are Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, Jim Hines and Bill Schuette. All four participated in the debate Thursday.
Moderator Devin Scillian pointed out that all of the candidates have said they don’t want to raise taxes and asked how they would fix the roads and other infrastructure with that in mind.
“The key is to focus on higher-quality road construction,” Colbeck said.
He said he would decrease expenses and, when the state hit expense reduction milestones, ratchet down the personal income tax until it was completely eliminated.
Hines said that the road funding boost passed in 2015 was still being implemented. He’d like to “get our roads in reasonably good shape and then start to ratchet down our income tax” down to 3.9 percent.
Calley said former Gov. Jennifer Granholm had left the state’s transportation funds in billions of dollars of debt. He doesn’t want to borrow more, he said. He wants to see the 2015 road plan fully phased in and use innovative ways to save costs, like the recent flex lane on US-23.
“When those roads are finally replaced… they will last longer,” Calley said.
Schuette said he wanted a review of the Michigan Department of Transportation and to prioritize road funding.
“We need to make sure we dedicate money to roads, that’s how you do it,” Schuette said.
Calley used a rebuttal to say Schuette hadn’t really answered the question.
“It’s not about sound bites, it’s not about platitudes, we need real plans of action,” Calley said.
When fully implemented, the 2015 plan will put $1.2 billion per year into the state’s roads. But some – including the director of MDOT – have said that funding level won’t actually make the roads better, just slow their deterioration.
The candidates also responded to a question about what they were – and weren’t — willing to do to attract businesses to Michigan in terms of incentives. A common theme between candidates was wanting to create the kind of environment where all businesses could thrive.
“It’s impossible to pick winners and losers. So often we’re wrong,” said Hines of the state picking specific beneficiaries for incentives.
Calley said things like becoming a right-to-work state made Michigan more attractive to businesses overall.
“You can’t make up for a bad overall operating environment with incentives,” he said.
Colbeck said Michigan should honor its constitution by providing an equal benefit to all citzens. He wants to do broad-based economic development by decreasing regulation and lowering the cost of doing business in the state.
Schuette said Michigan needed to be able to compete against other states for business and win.
“I’m not going to manage Michigan’s decline. I’m going to encourage our growth,” he said.
Outside of the debate, a group of activists protested the event, advocating for a higher minimum wage and to protect health care.
On the Democratic side of the gubernatorial race Abdul El-Sayed, Shri Thanedar and Gretchen Whitmer are competing. The primary takes place Aug. 7 and the general election is on Nov. 6.