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Lansing — Michigan's improving economy has created jobs and reduced the unemployment rate, but the state still faces economic challenges.

While Gov. Rick Snyder touts an increase of more than 540,000 jobs over his eight-year tenure, the total is still hundreds of thousands of jobs short of the peak in 2000 of 5 million. The unemployment rate is 4.5 percent, but median household income lags behind the national average.

The state's labor force participation rate of 61.5 percent ranks No. 37 in the country, reflecting that some potential workers have stopped looking for employment. 

From tax cuts to jobs training programs, the gubernatorial candidates have proposed a variety of approaches to address the challenges. Republicans have advocated for further decreases in taxes and regulations, while Democrats have championed a higher state minimum wage and the end of Michigan's right-to-work law. 

Bill Schuette: The attorney general has touted a “paycheck agenda” that is built around a promise to lower the state's income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent. It would fulfill a longtime Republican goal of returning the tax rate back to where it was in 2007 before Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature raised it to 4.35 percent during a budget crunch.

Besides reducing regulations, Schuette says he would emphasize vocation education in high schools, modernize standards and certifications in career and technical markets, and create a digital hub called the “paycheck portal” that will connect students with internship and apprenticeships.

Brian Calley: The lieutenant governor's campaign theme, "Continue the comeback," reflects his plans to keep taxes as low as possible while still being able “to pay for the essential functions of government.” He has championed the Snyder administration's tax reform efforts and led the effort to phase on the industrial personal property tax. But the campaign has been silent about whether Calley would reduce the income tax rate.

Calley supports Gov. Rick Snyder’s Marshall Plan for Talent, which is expected to fill more than 800,000 jobs through career-ready partnerships between schools and businesses. He also has advocated for policy that encourage social service programs that connect people with jobs.

Shri Thanedar: The Ann Arbor businessman has promised to create tuition incentives that keep graduates in Michigan and would have state government invest in wireless internet. He supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage, up from the current $9.25.

Thanedar’s tax proposal would eliminate the 4.25 percent personal income tax for people earning less than $50,000 annually, but would raise the tax to 8.85 percent for people earning $200,000 or more and 10 percent for those earning more than $1 million. The campaign says the increased tax burden on corporations and wealth individuals would generate $3.6 billion and pay for programs like paid family leave and universal child care. 

 Abdul El-Sayed: The Shelby Township physician says he wants to provide direct assistance to small business and expand skills training through tuition incentives and partnerships with manufacturers. El-Sayed wants to raise the state minimum wage from $9.25 an hour to $15, eliminate the gender pay gap and make college tuition free for families earning less than $150,000.

The former Detroit health department director has called for a graduated income tax, raising the current rate of 4.25 percent to 5 percent for the lowest earners and up to 8 percent for the state’s wealthiest people. His Medicare-for-all plan also would raise taxes on large businesses and individuals to generate funding for the program.

Patrick Colbeck: The state senator from Canton Township wants to eliminate over time the state’s 4.25 percent income tax — a loss of about $7 billion in state  revenue.  The repeal would force agencies to consider efficiencies within their departments, Colbeck said, and those savings would replace the revenue from the incremental rollback on the personal income tax. Colbeck also has proposed eliminating the state’s senior pension tax.

Rather than “picking winners and losers” through tax incentives, Colbeck wants to lower the cost of doing business in Michigan with lower taxes and insurance costs. His economic development strategy relies on a skilled workforce, customer service, a low cost of doing business and streamlined regulation.

Jim Hines: The Saginaw obstetrician says the first step to attracting and keeping jobs in Michigan is through taxes and regulations that are “under control.” Hines said he is not in favor of giving tax breaks to “favored industries.”

Hines wants to increase the availability of vocational training, dual enrollment, entrepreneurship education and alternative certification in public schools so students are ready to enter the working world should they chose to do so after high school.

Gretchen Whitmer: The former state Senate minority leader's plan to increase skills training includes two years of debt-free community college, skilled trades training or university classes. She also would help pay for two years of career training for adults.

The campaign said it expects the programs to cost the state about $100 million a year.

She will focus on mobility technology, agriculture and health care innovation, and small businesses. Whitmer said she wants to repeal of the right to work law and pursue a $15-an-hour minimum wage phased in over a three-year period.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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