Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he would work to improve education and roll back income taxes if elected governor.
Schuette, a Republican, was the only major party gubernatorial candidate not to participate in hour-long interviews last week with Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.
Schuette cited scheduling conflicts, but spoke to Bridge for nearly 20 minutes in early June. The following is a transcript of that interview.
Bridge: What do you think is the most important issue facing Michiganders in this election year and and what's your plan to tackle it?
Schuette: I think the biggest issue Michigan's future is that we have to grow our population. We need to be a leading state in America and for us to do that we need to be a growth state. And if we don't grow and if we have tepid growth we will be a less significant state. That's not the Michigan I want to have. I want us to be a jobs and a paycheck state and the real goal here is to have more jobs and bigger paychecks, that's why I'm running for governor. I intend to be Michigan's jobs governor to grow our state so we compete and we win against the Tennessees and the Floridas and the Carolinas, all the states that are growing faster than we are. That's the goal, we need to win again and compete for jobs and paychecks.
Bridge: We can look back over the last 7 ½ years and see a lot of the growth in job opportunities and a drop in the unemployment rate. What is it that you think Michigan is still lacking? What needs to happen on top of what’s already happened?
Schuette: It depends on what your aspirations for Michigan are. We’ve rebounded, and I give credit to our entire Republican team, we’ve rebounded. But we're still 300,000 jobs short of where Michigan was before the Great Recession, during the Granholm governorship. There are 55 counties in Michigan today in this decade that have lost population. You can't just dismiss it, other states are growing faster than we are.
Michigan once had 19 members of Congress. We will have 13 after the next census. What does that tell you? The math is pretty direct. Other states are growing faster than we are. So for us to go from good to great, we can't have incrementalism and we can't have tiny steps. We’re going to have big bold aspirational goals for Michigan. I'm not going to manage Michigan's decline. Elections are about choices. This is an election about who is going to be the next CEO of Michigan and I intend to be Michigan’s jobs governor. I’m going to be the governor that encourages our growth, I’m not going to be the one that manages our decline.
Bridge: How do you do that?
Schuette: Number one, we need to complement in Michigan what Republicans in Washington have achieved in cutting taxes. The fact that the Trump and Republican tax cuts are fueling our economy. We’re bringing the production of the RAM truck from Mexico to Michigan. That’s going to be a billion dollars of investment in the Warren Truck plant. That’s in Macomb County Michigan, our state. It would be 2,500 new jobs and every Fiat Chrysler automotive worker is getting a $2,000 taxcut bonus. That’s a great example of private enterprise and incentivizing private investment instead of having government dominance. And we have to complement that by eliminating the Granholm income tax increase that has never been rolled back.
It was supposed to be temporary and then be rolled back. And we need to do the same thing in Michigan just like President Trump and the Republicans in congress have done. We need to do the same thing in Michigan. That’s number one.
Second issue is auto insurance rates. We ought to give Michigan families a pay raise there. The fact that we have one of the highest auto insurance rates on average than any other state in America means that’s a call for reform to be sure. And we ought to give Michigan families a pay raise and cut auto insurance rates.
I was at the parade Sunday before Memorial Day in St. Clair Shores. And as I zigged and zagged across the parade route, group after group talked to me about auto insurance rates. “You better cut auto insurance rates, Bill. Let's get this job done.”
And people talk about the fact that the cost of auto insurance rates are $1,000 on average (higher) than any other state in the union is a disincentive for young people, millennials moving back. This one gentleman who I talked with before the parade, then went by him again and a second time he told me about his daughter and how her car insurance is so much higher here than any other other state where she has the opportunity to go to work.
It has a big impact on whether people move to Michigan or not. (Detroit) Mayor (Mike) Duggan would say the same thing. Mayor Duggan and I share this desire to cut auto insurance rates, so those are two things.
Then we talked about education, too. Those are really the bread and butter issues for Michigan’s future. We have the highest insurance rates in the nation and then our third grade reading scores are among the lowest in America. That’s got to change. Those numbers have to be improved.
Bridge: You’ve talked about rolling back the (former Gov. Jennifer) Granholm income tax increase. Would you stop there or would you go further in scaling back the income tax rate?
Schuette: The point here is we have to sharpen every tool in our economic toolbox. And if we want to compete against Tennessee and Texas — the fact that Texas has five of the six largest cities in America, it shows you that their economic climate, it's not just the weather, it's 110 degrees in Dallas in July, it’s hardly pleasant. But the fact is that their economic climate is better than ours.
That ought to be the bar and the standard and competition we have to exceed. And the fact is that we have to sharpen every tool, we have to roll back the Granholm income tax increase. We haven't fully eliminated all the personal property taxes in Michigan, we need to eliminate the prevailing wage statute, those are fundamental building blocks for us to compete against other states and win. This is about winning policies in Michigan.
Bridge: So you're not necessarily saying that you would roll back further?
Schuette: This is just a starting point for us to do everything that we can so we compete and win. The fact is that it's been an $8 billion cost to Michigan taxpayers since it was put into place. People ought to keep more of what they earn and the government ought to take less of what you make. And most people know of families and friends that are going to other states to live and work, and why is that? It's not just the weather. It's because the taxes are lower, the rules are more flexible, there are fewer regulations. We've got to compete and win. This is not about just being a mid-tier state. It's all about your attitude. It's about copping an attitude that we can win again and we can beat the other states in terms of economic competition.
Bridge: I’m curious about your plan to grade schools A through F and reward the higher graded schools. Could you speak a little bit more about that plan and what specifically the schools would be graded on?
Schuette: It all goes back to the fundamentals. Our third grade reading scores are so low, it's outrageous. People should be up in arms about this. The system in place today has failed children, and when our reading scores in Michigan are at the bottom of America, that's wrong. When I'm governor Michigan's children will read. That is a huge emphasis that I will have.
The policies here need to be driven by parents, and for children. I think education policy in Michigan has to be a four-letter word and that’s K-I-D-S, kids. That needs to be the focus. I went to public schools, my wife went to public schools and so did our children. And we had great educational outcomes. But for too many families they're trapped in an environment, the status quo that I don't think it's right if we continue to have third grade reading scores at the bottom of America. I think we ought to grade our schools A through F. I’ll put in a system that grades that. And those schools that are showing promise and improvement we oughta provide incentives, provide grants to them. I believe in that.
I’ll have a Michigan reading foundation so that the philanthropic and business community can invest there so we can have summer reading coaches and summer reading camps. I’m going to do everything in my power so that Michigan’s children can read. I want to be judged by how many Michigan children are reading and if we’ve improved our reading scores. I’m happy to be judged by that.
America’s supposed to be a place of opportunity. But if you can’t spell the word and can’t read the directions to get there, the future’s pretty gloomy.
Bridge: The incentives would be not necessarily for those at the top of that grade scale — A, B or whatever — but it would be more those that are showing progress or opportunity?
Schuette: I think we can have elements of both. I think you’ve got to reward improvement, reward excellence, and we’ll work out those details. But I think that’s a driving element in terms of education and Michigan’s future.
Bridge: So as far as how that scale would look, that’s still to be determined, but the idea of being able to categorize schools and the letter grade system is the general theme of what you’d like to do?
Schuette: Absolutely. And I’m going to have a literacy director, a cabinet-level position smack-dab in the governor’s office to emphasize the significance of reading and working with me so Michigan’s children will read.
The Democrats, Whitmer and the rest of the Democrats, they’re all about the status quo. That’s unacceptable. Doing what we’ve done, and Michigan cannot be at the bottom in terms of educational progress. That’s unacceptable in my book.
Bridge: Whitmer brought up that lawsuit from a while back, the state’s defense saying Michigan children don’t have a constitutional right to literacy. Obviously the role of the Attorney General’s Office is to defend the state in lawsuits, but is there a way to reconcile that defense with your belief that literacy is really important?
Schuette: I look forward to debating Sen. Whitmer should she be the Democrat nominee in the fall. Because the contrast on a range of issues, the economic collapse plan that she’s presented will just drive us back to the failed Granholm governorship. Education advocacy for the status quo. And what’s going on today is not a success in my book. So I look forward to having that discussion. This isn’t about lawsuits, this is about let’s make sure children read.
Bridge: You’ve talked about incentives and grants for schools, the kind of foundation where you’d look for investment from the philanthropic and business communities. Is there more to third grade reading and overall literacy achievement than those sorts of things? Is there an overall restructuring of the way we fund or govern schools?
Schuette: I think it’s about how you emphasize the significance of reading. We need to have summer reading camps, we need to have reading coaches. We need to have a Michigan reading festival. The emphasis will be on reading and that’s got to be the focus because it can solve a lot of our problems. You want to have children as they go through K-12 being able to read and learn all the way through it. We don’t want to have graduates from high school who need to have remedial help in college.
We need to have graduates that are college ready to compete and study at the collegiate level. And if you’re a graduate from high school you want to be workforce ready. And you’ve got to be able to read if you’re going to be in the skilled trades, which are valued jobs. Michigan’s high school graduates have to be ready whether they’re workforce ready or college ready, they better be ready. And that starts with third grade reading. That’s where we need to put our emphasis.