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Detroit — Flanked by Detroit public safety union leaders, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette on Thursday accused Democratic opponent Gretchen Whitmer of misleading voters about his stance on a state pension tax. 

Whitmer says Schuette supported a GOP-approved tax overhaul in 2011 that included a business tax cut and the elimination or reduction of exemptions from the taxation of pension income. Schuette, who wants to reduce the state income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, said he never supported the pension tax and wants to rescind it.

Schuette, who has been trailing in the polls to Whitmer with 33 days to go before the Nov. 6 election, called Whitmer's ad "misleading" and was backed up by two firefighter union chiefs and one for a police union in Detroit who have endorsed Schuette.

"There's only one person in the race for governor that fought to protect the pensions of cops and firefighters, the pensions of people of the state of Michigan during the Detroit bankruptcy and that's Bill Schuete," he said. "And I'm opposed to the pension tax. And as governor, I will fight to eliminate the pension tax. This is more than misleading. This is about an ad that is just not true. And she knows it."

Whitmer is pushing to eliminate the so-called pension tax on retirement income by restoring an exemption that was eliminated by Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature in 2011. Schuette said in September he’d also kill the pension tax.

Schuette's campaign said the statement cited by Whitmer, which he made at a Republican luncheon in 2011 according to a report in the Manistee News Advocate from that year, was a reference about how Snyder successfully cut business taxes. The same tax package included the eliminated pension income exemption.

Schuette's news conference was delayed by a gaggle of screaming protesters outside the Detroit Police Officers Association headquarters on Jefferson Avenue as they chanted, "Schuette's got to go" and "Schuette go home."

The attorney general "simply stood with us no one else would during the city of Detroit's Chapter 9 bankruptcy," said Mark Diaz, the head of the Detroit Police Officers Association.

The pensions of public safety workers were threatened but Schuette had their backs, he said.

"He fought with us to protect our pensions, when no one else would stand with us, Attorney General Schuette did," he said. "Gretchen Whitmer is doing a disservice to all public safety with this misleading ad and should take it off the air immediately."

Mike Nevin, the president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, referred to Whitmer's ad as "deceitful."

"I'm appalled at the deceitful ad featuring a retired fire fighter. My Dad's a retired firefighter, my brother's a retired police officer and to have a member on there as a retired fire fighter that I doubt knows the facts is hurtful and deceitful," Nevin said. "Michigan cannot afford lies, deceit and dishonesty to move into the future. We need people that legislatively and politically tell the truth and have a record to stand on."

When asked if they interviewed Whitmer for an endorsement, Nevin said she fell far short of expectations.

"Our union board sat down with Ms. Whitmer and we threw her softballs," Nevin said. "Not one question was answered. And her record was poor and she had no knowledge of public safety matters."

Nevin said she "stands for women and women's rights" and "the only thing she was concerned about were the roads. And honesty, there was really no substance."

But other union leaders defended Whitmer.

Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union President Mark Docherty said Schuette’s record of supporting the Retirement Tax on Michigan seniors was poor.

“Bill Schuette can’t hide from his record of giving tax breaks to his wealthy friends at the expense of hardworking Michigan families," he said in a statement. "The tax plan Schuette supported in 2011 included the retirement tax, which has cost seniors who worked hard their whole lives thousands in new taxes they can’t afford."

"No matter how hard he tries to rewrite his record, Michigan firefighters know that Bill Schuette is bad for retirees, bad for our families, and bad for Michigan.”

Whitmer has been endorsed by the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, the Michigan Association of Police Organizations and the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police.

The Associated Press contributed

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming

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