Gubernatorial Campaign Should be About Things That Matter

Not false claims and things that don't

Editor's Note: This article first appeared at

The 2014 Michigan gubernatorial election should be a referendum on the major changes to Michigan made by Governor Rick Snyder’s administration. Unfortunately, the debate is saturated instead with false claims of education cuts.

Snyder’s opponent, former congressman Mark Schauer, centered his campaign around the allegation that Snyder “cut $1 billion from the schools.”

Most school revenue in Michigan is channeled through the state. So the annual budget is closely followed. Overall spending on education is up over Snyder’s term. From the fiscal year 2011 budget — the last budget passed prior to the Snyder administration — to the fiscal 2015 budget, education funding is up $888.6 million, a 7 percent increase.

This increase is somewhat smaller than it might have been due to phased-out federal stimulus money appropriated to schools through the state budget. Just looking at state funding for education yields a $1.26 billion increase, an 11 percent gain.

A case could be made that education funding has not increased as much as Schauer or others wanted. But that is different from a factual assertion that funding has been cut.

If opponents wanted to criticize Snyder for spending reductions, there are other areas that experienced greater declines. The revenue that the state shares with local governments was cut by $100 million in Snyder’s first approved budget and higher education was cut by $216 million.

Of course, these areas were also targeted for reductions under the previous administration as well. It is also worth discussing whether the state taxpayers should have been required to keep spending as much in these areas, especially when revenues were not available without increasing taxes.

While the Schauer campaign remains critical of Gov. Snyder for phantom education cuts, the Snyder campaign’s assertions are vague. Ads are about the state’s general economic comeback and promise further “reinvention.” They also include lines that most campaigns would have shied away from like, “You might not feel it yet.”

The state passed a right-to-work law, cut business taxes, eliminated some broadly-applicable income tax credits and exemptions, expanded charter schools, strengthened teacher evaluation requirements, cut public employee benefits, reduced the window of eligibility for state assistance, expanded Medicaid, and brought Detroit under emergency management. Few people will agree with all of these policies, but a discussion about their impact is absent from this election.

There are some issues being discussed in the background of the campaign. Schauer’s job’s plan calls for rolling back some of these reforms, like changes to the tax treatment of retirement income. But outside of its initial roll-out, the policies he supports has taken a back seat to false claims of education cuts.

A good discussion about policies is important for predictive purposes. Governors attempt to accomplish what they tell voters. It allows voters to steer candidates to some policies and away from others. It also provides accountability over the policies that the candidates have supported.

But a discussion about the effects of Michigan’s reforms has largely been missing from the gubernatorial campaign. What we’ve got instead is a long discussion about a simple matter — is education spending up or down during Gov. Snyder’s term —and one that is not even accurate.