Michigan gubernatorial candidates Bernero, Snyder address Grand Rapids Chamber forum

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Snyder, Bernero address Grand Rapids forum

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero agreed Friday that making Michigan a right-to-work state is not something they’d pursue if elected governor.

The two candidates said the issue is too divisive and would get in the way of efforts to create more jobs and spur Michigan’s economy. In right-to-work states, unions don’t have the right to make workers pay dues if they’re covered by a union contract. Twenty-two states have such laws.

Snyder, a Republican businessman from Ann Arbor, and Bernero, the Democratic Lansing mayor, answered questions posed by journalists and the audience at the West Michigan Policy Forum at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.

Each had 45 minutes to speak on the economy, education and health care and dealing with the state deficit, among other issues.

The pair didn’t appear on the stage together. Still, it was a unique opportunity to see them in the same forum. The opportunity could prove rare since Snyder has not committed to negotiating further over debates. He says Bernero should have accepted his offer of three debates he made a week ago. Bernero says Snyder’s plan had flaws. He has asked Snyder to sit down with him and work out a schedule for debates.

“We’re still having a discussion about doing debates, but time is running out,” Snyder told the hundreds attending the forum. “We need to create jobs, folks. Let’s stop talking about debates.”

The two men spoke about the experience they brought to the job. Snyder has criticized Bernero as a “career politician,” but Bernero said the years he has spent in county, state and municipal government are an advantage.

“That service will come in handy,” he said, noting that he has proven he can balance budgets, get government employees to accept concessions and trim the size of government.

Snyder said experience in government would be fine if state government worked, but it doesn’t.

“It’s a broken system. Isn’t it time someone showed up from the real world with practical experience?” he said. He added that he has spent time with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fellow Republican, to discuss running a state.

Both men said their main goal is to work with businesses to make it easier for them to create jobs and lower the state’s unemployment rate from 13.1 percent. They said they’d avoid raising taxes and wanted more consolidation in services provided by school districts and local governments to save money.

Bernero called himself a “pro-business Democrat” and pointed out the Michigan Chamber of Commerce endorsed him when he ran for re-election as mayor in 2009. He noted that endorsement wouldn’t have come “if I was some madman who doesn’t get results.”

He said he would target manufacturing jobs “in a big way” and is proud of the passion he brings to helping workers.

“Am I going to fight like hell for American workers and American jobs? Yes,” he said. He added that he favors targeting some businesses such as green manufacturing and bringing more foreign investment to the state.

Snyder spoke of his plan to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax and replace it with a 6 percent corporate income tax he says would be simpler to understand and administer. He said the state needs to have a less harsh regulatory climate and should try to get more small businesses started in Michigan rather than lure big out-of-state companies to locate here.

“We’re doing far too much hunting,” he said. “We need to step back and get much more into economic gardening.”

Several audience members said they liked that both Bernero and Snyder said they’d work to bring everyone to the table when working to move Michigan forward.

“Both of them said they’d work together, and that made me happy,” said Jean Nagelkerk, a Grand Valley State University administrator.

Janet DeYoung, executive director of the Holland-Zeeland Area Community Foundation, said she hasn’t yet made up her mind which candidate will get her vote. She’s weighing how well she thinks each will be able to govern.

“These guys are good” at talking about their visions, she said of the two candidates. “It’s much more difficult looking at who has those ideas and can make them work.”

Lynne Jarman-Johnson said that the winner of the Nov. 2 election will face a huge challenge, since the budget deficit for 2011-2012 is expected to be around $1 billion.

“Come Jan. 1, it truly will be a very tough position for either candidate,” the Grand Rapids Community College administrator and small business owner said.

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