Schuette, Whitmer release tax returns

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and his wife earned $375,466 in 2016 while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer earned $150,499, according to federal tax returns first shared with The Detroit News.

Bill Schuette and Gretchen Whitmer.

Schuette voluntarily releases his returns each year around Memorial Day, and Whitmer did so upon the request of The News, which asked all statewide office holders and active gubernatorial candidates this week in the wake of the April 18 tax deadline.

The 1040 tax documents show Schuette and his wife, who is listed as a homemaker, paid $45,740 in federal taxes for the year. Their income was down 17 percent from 2015, primarily because of reductions in capital gains from stock sale profits.

Whitmer filed separately from her husband, a dentist, and paid $27,949 in federal taxes. The East Lansing Democrat and former state Senate minority leader served as Ingham County prosecutor in 2016. She claimed one of her two daughters as a dependent.

“The fact is every statewide elective office holder and those who may seek statewide office should reveal their taxes,” said Schuette, who stopped short of calling for required disclosure but encouraged voluntary release. “This is about accountability, and it’s about being transparent so there’s never a question of a conflict of interest.”

Schuette, a Midland Republican is considering a run for governor in 2018 but has not confirmed any campaign plans. Whitmer is the first declared gubernatorial candidate to release her return.

Whitmer “is prepared to clean up Lansing, and demand accountability for our families, small businesses and our kids,” campaign manager Jerid Kurtz said in a statement. “And Gretchen disclosed her finances because she’s committed to backing her values up through action, which is another reason why folks consistently turn to her when they need someone to take on the tough fights.”

Schuette was a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign but declined to weigh in on Trump’s continued refusal to release his own tax returns, a transparency tradition for presidential candidates the self-described billionaire bucked despite questions over his vast business interests.

“My focus is on the state of Michigan, and with respect to what occurs in the 49 other states and the four territories and with federal officials, I’m going to leave that to them,” Schuette said. “But in terms of Michigan, I think it’s good practice, and I’ll continue to do so.”

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder traditionally requests an automatic six-month extension and will release his returns at some point after that October deadline, his office said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Portland Republican who appears poised to launch a campaign for governor on May 30, is preparing to unveil a public official financial disclosure proposal later this year.

Calley “looks forward to releasing financial information at that time,” said spokeswoman Laura Biehl.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson won’t be releasing her tax returns, said spokesman Fred Woodhams. Like Snyder, Calley and Schuette, Johnson will be term-limited out of her current post at the end of 2018 but has filed paperwork for a potential state Senate run.

Abdul El-Sayed, the former Detroit health department director seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018, did not release his return this week but will voluntarily do so “soon,” a spokesman said.

“Michiganders deserve public servants who have nothing to hide,” said Adam Joseph of the El-Sayed campaign.

The campaign of Jim Hines, a Republican and Saginaw-area obstetrician who is running for governor, had not responded to a request for his 2016 tax return by Tuesday evening.

Schuette reported $106,303 in earnings from his job as attorney general, but the majority of his and his wife’s 2016 income — $214,766 – came from stock dividends and capital gains, down from a combined $302,622 in 2015.

But Schuette knows little about those investments. Upon taking office in 2011, he announced he was placing his assets in a blind trust to avoid any potential conflicts of interest between personal finances and his job as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Whitmer is committed to doing the same, her campaign said Tuesday. She reported $124,997 in wages for 2016, $22,880 in stock market dividends and capital gains, $2,500 in business income and $156 in refunds or credits to offset state or local taxes.

Schuette, 63, also claimed $44,137 in pension and annuities income. He served as a state senator between 1995 and 2002, winning election before Michigan closed its state employee pension system to new hires in 1997. He’s also worked as a congressman, Michigan Court of Appeals judge and state agricultural director.

Schuette and his wife reported $143,017 in itemized deductions for 2016, including $51,377 in gifts to charity. They’re active contributors to Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland and a variety of other causes, he said.

In addition to their $45,740 federal tax bill, the Schuettes paid $16,084 to the state, $526 to the city of Lansing and $8,714 in Social Security and Medicare taxes, according to his office.

Whitmer reported $36,343 in itemized deductions, but the return her campaign released to The News did not include the tax schedule document that would list any charitable contributions.