A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

On what could be some of the main issues in the next legislative session, the candidates for Michigan’s 80th House District made their case.

The race is to replace State Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, who is term-limited. The district is in West Michigan and a large portion of Allegan County, including the cities of Allegan, Holland, Otsego, Saugatuck and South Haven. It has a 62 percent Republican base, based on an average of the turnout in the 2008 and 2010 elections. The election takes place on Aug. 5.

Four candidates are in the GOP primary race. Only two responded to questions: Nurse and tea party activist Cindy Gamrat and Allegan Township Supervisor Steve Schulz.

Capitol Confidential asked about three main issues: The state pension system, select tax subsidy “corporate welfare” programs and the state’s prevailing wage law.

The Michigan teacher pension system has $25.8 billion in unfunded liabilities. New teachers are virtually the only ones still eligible for pensions since state workers shifted to a 401(k)-type account beginning in 1997 and few private-sector workers receive defined benefits.

Gamrat wholeheartedly supported closing the teacher pension system and offering 401(k) plans and encouraging local governments to do so as well.

“The pension bubble is a big issue and we all saw what happened in Detroit when we ignore that issue,” Gamrat said.

Schulz said that as a 14-year township supervisor, he recognizes that few private-sector workers receive defined benefit plans.

“I do not believe it is correct for public employees, except those in dangerous professions such as police and fire officers, to have benefits richer than those provided by the average private-sector employer,” Schulz said. “For that reason, I would support legislation that encourages and speeds up the transition of public employees from defined-benefit to defined-contribution plans.”

Through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) and the state film incentive program, taxpayers in Michigan spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on special incentives. The candidates were asked how they would vote on this program if elected as state representative.

Schulz said it “is easy to say” that Michigan should give up its incentives, but when other states do not, it can cost jobs.

“I believe the MEDC, particularly under the Granholm administration, was quite loose in assuming any benefits would actually yield the promised jobs and economic advantages for Michigan,” Schulz said. “For that reason, the wise use of public resources demands that [the] MEDC be completely transparent with the appropriate oversight committees of the legislature.”

On the film subsidy program, he said it is a handout of “lucrative payouts to Hollywood millionaires…I would vote to end it at once.”

Gamrat wants to end the program entirely and spend the money on other things, like roads.

“My intro flier is to eliminate the MEDC,” she said. “Years of research has shown it to be ineffective. Taxpayers can spend that money better. I don’t believe in corporate subsidies or favors.”

The state’s prevailing wage law, which mandates union-scale wages on construction projects, costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually at no extra benefit. The candidates were in agreement about repealing the law.

Gamrat called it an “absolute no brainer.”

Schulz noted that he previously worked as an excavator and the mandate prevents road dollars from going further.

“I would vote to repeal it as soon as possible so any road building dollars we find could build more miles of improved highways, roads and bridges for our state than is now possible because of this law,” Schulz said.

The candidates were asked why they are the best person for the job.

Cindy Gamrat

I think my track record of standing up for businesses and taxpayers and not special interest groups separates me from the other candidates. I’m a big believer in transparency. I have done nine town halls and I would continue to do those if elected. I would also post all of my votes and explanations on Facebook so people would know what I’m voting on and why and be able to interact.

Steve Schulz

I am the only candidate who has the combination of deep roots in Allegan County, having lived my entire life amidst our people, and the experience of actually making conservative principles work in local government. Working with like-minded officials in the City of Allegan, we merged the fire departments, planning commissions and recreation plans while working together to save a small business and the school district thousands of dollars in water bills.

Mary Whiteford and Randy Brink are also in the race but did not return requests for comment.

Editor's note: Michigan Capitol Confidential will be reporting and writing about key primary races leading up to the election on Aug. 5. The series of stories are designed to provide readers with some insight into candidates who have said they support free market issues. The stories are not endorsements and readers are encouraged to give every candidate a serious look before the election.

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