Schuette, Whitmer spar separately on schools, jobless fraud

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette addresses the crowd during the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce's 13th Annual Business Luncheon in Detroit, Friday.

Detroit — Gubernatorial opponents Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette discussed their stark differences on how to govern the state in separate interviews Friday — from education to the state unemployment insurance fraud scandal to taxes.

At the luncheon sponsored by the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, Fox 2 News' Charlie Langston first interviewed Whitmer, the Democratic former Senate minority leader, and then Republican Schuette, the sitting attorney general.

They both accused the other of being wrong for the state. Whitmer said Schuette opposed common-sense legislation to help keep Michiganians in the state. Schuette, who wants to cut the income tax, said Whitmer would set back Michigan with tax hikes and a curtailed economy.

This month, attorneys told Michigan Supreme Court justices that they should revive a class-action lawsuit for out-of-work residents who were falsely accused of unemployment insurance fraud and continue to suffer financial and personal consequences.

Tens of thousands of claimants were wrongly flagged for fraud and penalized by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, which relied on an error-prone automated computer system over a nearly two-year span beginning in 2013. Gov. Rick Snyder oversee the agency.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd during the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce's 13th Annual Business Luncheon in Detroit, Friday.

"It is unconscionable that the state did what they did to 40,00 people," said Whitmer, who blamed Schuette for helping to drive some people into bankruptcy.

"There are 40,000 hard-working people in this state who didn't do a darn thing wrong," she said. "But because of computer malfunction, our attorney general started pursuing charges against people who didn't do anything wrong. Many of these people were driven into bankruptcy, their marriages failed."

Schuette said his job as attorney general to represent the state and Snyder in these matters, but that people in the end were "wronged" by the state government.

"State government injured people, basically," he said. "I have constitutional responsibilities. ... Now I disagreed with what happened and made it very clear that I thought that people were injured. It was unjust. The folks who got injured financially ought to be reimbursed. Period."

When told that didn't happen, Schuette said, "I'm not the governor, I don't run the state of Michigan."

On education, Whitmer said she wants to improve it in a "bipartisan way. It's making sure that we're spending what it takes to educate our kids."

Schuette said education in the state "is about outcomes" but it's "outrageous" that Michigan's third grade reading scores are among the lowest in the nation.

The one thing they did agree on: Eliminating the so-called "pension tax" on retirement income by restoring an exemption that was eliminated by Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature in 2011. Eliminating it would cost the state about $280 million a year.

(313) 222-2620