Education, Michigan's personal property tax and job creation were among the topics discussed Tuesday night at a candidate forum for those running for the Michigan House of Representatives in the 40th District.
The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters at Birmingham's and featured all five candidates, including the four candidates running for the Republican nomination and one Democrat. All five names will be on the ballot during the Aug. 7 primary.
Running for the State House in the 40th District are Republicans , , and as well as Democrat .
All five are looking to replace outgoing State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham), who has to vacate his seat this year due to term limits. Michigan's new 40th District — — is composed of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township and a portion of West Bloomfield.
League of Women Voters moderator Judy Bateman posed more than a dozen questions to the five candidates Tuesday night, many of which were submitted by an audience of nearly 40.
From open carry laws to a tuition tax credit for Michigan students, check out what those looking to represent Birmingham, Bloomfield and West Bloomfield in Lansing had to say:
How do you feel about requiring health insurance carriers to cover autism?
While Bateman noted that the 40th District's current representative, Rep. Moss, voted no on this issue earlier this year, four out of the five candidates said that they would have voted yes.
"The investment of early care is a good economic move," said Potts while Lawrence said diagnosing autism as early as possible helps schools and children function better.
Wolkinson was the only candidate to say he would vote no. While acknowledging the issue was highly-charged and oftentimes emotional, he stressed there is no evidence that mandated treatments work.
"Imposing those extra costs ... is a really bad idea," Wolkinson said.
What do you think of revisiting Michigan's open carry laws in light of ?
All candidates began their responses by acknowledging citizens' Second Amendment rights, noting it is legal to openly carry firearms in Michigan. However, Potts, Lawrence, McCready and Coston said limitations to this law are important, stressing there are places where weapons aren't necessary, such as libraries and school campuses.
"People called it the wild west for a reason, it was wild," said Coston. "Thank goodness it's over."
Wolkinson, meanwhile, noted that revising Michigan's open carry law is "a solution in search of a problem," and that during time he spent in Israel, he actually felt safer seeing people with weapons.
What do you think of the Troy transit center and do you support the SMART millage?
While many of the candidates avoided answering how they felt about the Troy transit center — saying that issue was outside the 40th District — nearly all discussed the importance of regional transportation.
"Public transportation is something government should support," Lawrence said, with Coston adding that he supports any system that creates jobs.
"(Public transportation) is for jobs and it's for kids getting to school," Coston said.
Wolkinson said while he doesn't know if he'll support the SMART millage, he will not support the development of government bureaucracy to bail out a failing system.
How will you advocate for education? Do you support a tuition tax credit?
While all five candidates said they support competition in Michigan's public schools, McCready went a step further, saying he also supports removing the state cap on the number of charter schools.
"It's important that we put money into the classroom," McCready added. "We can't keep taking out."
Lawrence, who is in his third term with the Birmingham Board of Education, said education is key to his campaign. What is perhaps most important, he said, is the unfunded liability of the state's pension fund for teachers and school administrators. The state is losing millions of dollars to this year every year, Lawrence said.
"Without that, we're going nowhere," Lawrence said.
Potts said lawmakers have to consider the realities of Michigan's economy when thinking about how to fund education, urging for more accountability and competition.
Do you support Gov. Snyder's bridge to Canada?
McCready, Lawrence and Coston said they supported the idea behind the bridge, noting that if Michigan taxpayer money wasn't used, the project could create hundreds of jobs.
"The bridge ... is just one piece of the puzzle," Lawrence said. "This will help create a logistical hub in the Detroit area. (It's a) good first step to really build an economic engine."
However, Wolkinson and Potts admitted to some wariness of the project, questioning whether the Canadian government will really pay as much as they've promised.
"I don't believe in a thing like a free lunch," Wolkinson said.
Do you support the DIA millage?
Every candidate said they supported the (DIA) — all except for Wolkinson.
While Wolkinson said he's sure the millage will pass, especially given its popularity, he said he's against creating new sources of government spending.
The DIA is a valuable institution, Wolkinson said, "but that doesn't mean we have to raise taxes to support it."
What do you think of Gov. Snyder's proposal to phase out the personal property tax?
All four Republican candidates said Michigan's personal property tax was a poor tax — Wolkinson called it an "absolute horrendous tax." McCready said the tax prevents businesses from coming to Michigan while Lawrence said it's difficult to collect and regulate.
Potts said while he supports the gradual phasing out of the tax, he doesn't think it keeps businesses away and noted the income it provides for small communities is important.
Coston, meanwhile, came down in favor of the tax. "A tax is what makes government run," he said. "It makes government more accountable and it makes businesses more accountable."
Do you think voters should have to show ID at the polls?
All four Republican candidates said they believed in showing identification at the polls, with Potts stressing that the process isn't invasive. Wolkinson said requiring ID helps prevent an even-bigger problem: voter fraud.
While Lawrence acknowledged the state should find ways to make voting easier for citizens, Coston went a step further: "We should have voter education, not voter suppression."
Do you support a health insurance exchange, as supported by Gov. Snyder?
While all four Republicans said they oppose President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, most were in support of setting up a statewide health insurance exchange. The Affordable Care Act is law, they said, and it's good to start moving with an exchange early.
Coston said he also supports the "Republican ideal" of a health care exchange, noting it benefits both businesses and citizens.
What do you think of Michigan's new laws regarding sale of fireworks?
While most candidates noted that more fireworks isn't necessarily a good thing, most said they were ambivalant about additional regulations.
Potts, however, said he was concerned most with local government when it came to the new fireworks law. There's little money going to local police, Potts said — the ones who actually have to monitor the uptick in fireworks usage.
"The only people who make money are the fireworks people," Potts said. "I like personal freedom but wonder if there's a sacrifice (here) for the people."
Do you support inhibiting a woman's reproductive rights?
Most candidates kept their answers short to this question, with Coston being the only one to say Tuesday night he was pro-choice. McCready, Potts and Wolkinson said they were pro-life. While Lawrence didn't say where he stood at the forum, he told Patch afterward he is pro-choice.
How do you think Michigan should pay for its roads, sewers and water mains?
Potts said that the current formula used to determine road funding does not look at usage, making southeastern Michigan's roads some of the worst in the state.
Most candidates agreed with Potts' assertion that the formula has to change, with Wolkinson adding that there are various special interests that need to be addressed before real money can be saved on infrastructure.
Coston, meanwhile, noted that all taxpayers have to make sacrifices when it comes to making government work for them. "Let's work together to get the results we deserve," he said.
How would you bring new jobs to Michigan?
Wolkinson said it is the government's responsibility not to necessarily create jobs, but to create an environment where businesses can compete and therefore hire Michigan's unemployed and young people, many of whom, he noted, are leaving the state to find jobs elsewhere.
Lawrence said bringing more businesses to Michigan will involve eliminating several taxes and cleaning up the tax code, though quality of life may be even more important.
"What brings jobs to a place is the quality of life," Lawrence said. "If we keep the education system as good as it can be, it's a virtuous cycle and it begins with education."
Correction: An earlier verision of this article noted that all four Republicans said they were pro-life. Robert Lawrence did not answer the question and later told Patch he is pro-choice.