HOUGHTON - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer visited the Copper Country Saturday as part of a tour to share his priorities and meet with residents.
Schauer, a former U.S. Congressman and state representative from Battle Creek, is looking to unseat Gov. Rick Snyder in the November elections.
He said the biggest difference between he and Snyder is his focus on growing Michigan by reducing economic inequality.
Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer
"What we've seen under this governor is a growing disparity between the wealthy and corporate special interests that have benefitted from his tax cut and everybody else," he said during an interview at 5th & Elm Coffeehouse in Houghton Saturday. "I believe that the way to build a strong economy in Michigan is to do that from the middle out - expand the middle class."
One way to do that, he said, is by making education and training a top priority, and giving school districts the resources they need to graduate skilled students. The state also needs to ensure that training programs, including at community and vocational colleges, are tailored to the needs of employers.
Schauer attacked a $930.6 million cut in education funding Snyder made in his first year. (According to an MLive fact check, the budget partially offset the cuts with a $100-per-pupil best practices incentive and $155 million in aid for retirement costs.)
More than 50 schools in the states are in deficit, Schauer said.
"It's hurting kids, and it's weakening our economy," he said.
Schauer said he would also reverse a tax increase on pensions, and work with communities that have had hard times maintaining services such as snow removal and fire protection. He said he would also maintain protections on the Great Lakes, which he said have been eroded under Snyder.
Another key part of Schauer's platform is raising the minimum wage, which is now at $7.40. Schauer's proposal would raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour over three years, then index it to inflation.
Schauer said a higher minimum wage will reduce employee turnover and allow workers to support their families. Eighty percent of minimum wage earners are age 20 or over, and almost half are working full-time, he said.
"A single parent with one child working full-time earning minimum wage is raising their child in poverty," he said. "We can do better than that in Michigan."
Schauer also addressed the ongoing propane shortage. On Friday, he met with President Obama and urged him to limit propane exports through the Department of Commerce, and also expand funding through he Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Schauer said decisive action would help at the state level. Earlier Saturday, Schauer said, he spoke with a L'Anse business owner who said Snyder had been slow to act and seemed out of touch with the problems it poses.
Schauer called for a comprehensive approach, including joining with other governors to ask for federal action to reduce weight restrictions, which would allow heavier trucks to transport propane. He also called for assistance such as emergency loans to families, businesses and propane dealers to give them access to propane and make it affordable.
"There are many families that don't qualify for low-income assistance that just can't afford to put propane in their tank even if it's available to them, so I think there are other forms of financial support, including loans, that should be made available," he said.
Schauer also addressed Snyder's recent budget proposal, which includes tax rebates, an expansion of the homestead tax exemption and education increases of 6.1 percent for universities and 2.8 percent for K-12 schools.
Schauer called the budget an election-year gimmick that doesn't counteract the harmful effects of his first three years. As for his education funding, he said, not enough went towards the classroom.
"He's trying to convince people his policies are actually working," he said. "To me, his budget is several years late and not nearly enough. It shows a governor that still continues to be out of touch with what families are facing."
Schauer started his Upper Peninsula tour in Baraga County Saturday, where he met with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council and toured L'Anse Manufacturing. He then went to Keweenaw County, where he met with local Democrats at Slim's Cafe. Back in Houghton, he was scheduled to meet with Michigan Technological University students and officials and later attended a Tech hockey game.
Schauer was scheduled to visit family in Negaunee Sunday before holding meet-and-greets in Marquette, Munising and Newberry. Today, he is scheduled to meet with supporters in Sault Ste. Marie and the Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Council.