Time is growing short for the fall campaign across the state as various races are heating up.
That is especially true for the 52nd District race where Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell is trying to unseat incumbent Mark Ouimet. Both candidates are upbeat heading into final turn and see victory on the horizon.
The challenge for Democrat Driskell is to find a way to get her message out that the state needs to rethink its priorities and focus more on funding schools and shifting the tax burden away from people and back to businesses.
“Lansing has made some bad decisions,” she said. “It’s not just Saline, Manchester has been hit hard and other districts are dipping into their fund balances.”
The 53-year-old candidate said she is pro-business and stands on her 20 years as a member of the Saline City Council, including 14 years as mayor, as testimony to her growth policies. She favors cutting red tape to make it easier for businesses to move to the state.
She wants Gov. Rick Snyder to come up with a plan to identify sources of funding for communities if the personal property tax is eliminated. The tax accounts for 20 percent of Saline’s budget.
Her main thrust is the state has erred in cutting funding to the 15 public universities it supports. The 15 percent cuts come at a time when the state needs highly educated residents to stay and help rebuild the economy.
“We have to bring young talent to the state,” she said. “We have to be a destination state.”
Schools are a leading factor in a person’s decision to move somewhere, she said. She believes only a full restoration of funding can help maintain the state’s schools and make them attractive to outsiders.
As for her thoughts on Republican Ouimet, she was short.
“I don’t feel like he’s representing the district,” Driskell said. “His focus- which is shifting the tax burden to the people proves he doesn’t”
Driskell also feels Snyder has dropped the ball with eliminating funding for Brownfield development and cutting film subsidies.
Getting rid of the Michigan Business Tax was a good thing, but she felt it went too far.
Ouimet, on the other hand, is excited about a return to Lansing. He believes the governor when Snyder calls Michigan the comeback state.
His priorities are jobs and education and he believes he has delivered on those issues.
“We are on the move,” he said. “We are the comeback state, but we have more work to be done.”
From his perspective the reforms instituted by Gov. Rick Snyder have led to the removal of duplications of services which adds value to the tax dollars.
The recent decision by the state House and Senate to cap retirement funding by schools at 24.75 percent will put money back in the hands of the districts. He estimates the decision will mean $8 million for schools statewide and $800,000 to Saline Area Schools alone.
As for the cuts to higher education, Ouimet sees the state’s action as restraining tuition increases.
“The 15 public universities understand how important it is to hold down tuition increases,” he said. “We can start filling the gap.”
The repeal of the Michigan Business Tax was another good idea, Ouimet said. Two years ago small businesses got hit with a 23 percent surcharge. Now 95,000 small businesses and limited liability corporations pay the same income tax rate as individuals do.
“We are seeing (companies) hiring people and adding equipment,” Ouimet said. “The major Fortune 500 companies in our state (Ford, Dow and Whirlpool) have seen their taxes go up; larger corporations are paying slightly more.”
Ouimet said he doesn’t spend time worrying about his opponent, instead he working to keep the positive changes going.
He sees schools getting more money, the business climate improving and a general positive energy.
“We can’t kick the can down the road,” he said. “We are seeing positive results.