BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — A Democrat who doesn't always agree with her own party. A Republican who puts the party "team" first in his own ads.
Those two will square off on Tuesday to represent Grand Traverse County is the 104th State House District.
Incumbent Republican Wayne Schmidt said the economy and moving Michigan forward remains voters' biggest concern and he credits Republican leaders in Lansing with lowering unemployment and moving Michigan ahead.
Democrat Betsy Coffia, in her first attempt at elected office, said big money special interests and lobbyists who lavish lawmakers with food and drink determine how politicians cast their votes. She refuses to accept any special interest or out-of-state contributions.
"We have a political process disconnected from every day people and every day concerns," Coffia said. "I'm running ... because it won't change unless people like me step up."
Coffia grew up in a Republican household and said she's puzzled by the actions of the Republican-controlled Legislature in Lansing; they've raised taxes on individuals and adopted laws that usurp local control.
"As if Lansing can do a better job than our own school districts and municipalities," Coffia said.
Tax hikes were to offset elimination of the Michigan Business Tax. The increases include taxing pensions and lost tax credits for children, gifts to food pantries, and paying college tuition, among other things, Coffia said. Citizens won't see the results of lost credits until they do their taxes in 2013.
"For most people, their individual income tax is going up," Coffia said. "(Republicans) have this flaming 'cut taxes' rhetoric, but then they increase taxes on people. That is so hypocritical."
Anytime the tax code changes, you will be able to find some people who pay more and others who pay less, Schmidt said. Lawmakers also increased the personal exemption to counteract the loss of certain credits and lowered the overall tax rate from 4.35 percent to 4.25 percent.
"Overall, we were looking to flatten tax rates," Schmidt said. "Not everyone can take those credits; this makes it fairer for everyone."
Schmidt also points to success in getting Traverse City Area Public Schools a $120 per student increase in state funding, known as an equity payment to help make up the difference between the lowest- and highest-funded school districts.
"That was a real big deal. People were really pleased," Schmidt said. "We are continuing to get at that funding gap, but that is going to take a lot of time."
Coffia said it's not extra money because it doesn't cover the funding cut from schools the previous year. Those cuts in dollars, she said, disproportionately hurt schools such as TCAPS and Kingsley that receive the lowest per-pupil grant, compared to downstate schools that collect up to $5,000 more per-student.
"I object to the notion it's somehow like Christmas," Coffia said. "Our schools are hurting, and this new money comes with all these top-down-from-Lansing strings attached."