102nd District candidates weigh in

OSCEOLA COUNTY — With less than a week until the Nov. 6 general election, candidates for the 102nd District in the Michigan House of Representatives are putting forth their last efforts to gain voter support.

Voters will head to the polls to elect either incumbent Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, or challenger Brendan Maturen, D-Stanwood, to the state House. The seat holds a two-year term, representing Mecosta, Osceola and Wexford counties.

Maturen was born in Lincoln Park in 1969 and has lived in Mecosta County since 2006. He earned a degree in journalism at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree at Washington University in St. Louis. He has practiced law, mostly in public service, for about 17 years.

He has received endorsements from the Michigan Nurses Association, the Michigan affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and was named a “Friend of Retail” by the Michigan Retailers Association.

Potvin, who is the retired CEO of Western Concrete Products of Cadillac, has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturing Association, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Association of Realtors, among others.

He previously had a career in secondary education, graduated from the Michigan Military Academy and is a retired member of the Michigan National Guard. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Albion College and a master’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University.

In an effort to help voters see where the candidates stand on various issues, the Herald Review posed questions to them. Answers were limited to 100 words.

HERALD REVIEW: List the three most pressing issues facing the 102nd House District. How would you address one of them?

BRENDAN MATUREN: The three most pressing issues facing the 102nd District are the same as those facing many other rural districts in Michigan: Education, unemployment and poverty. Our current representative and his legislature have done little or nothing to address these issues. They are all interrelated, and need to be addressed, in part, by making education funding from birth through college a priority. Good schools with adequate resources create a path out of poverty, help our children compete for quality jobs and create a trained workforce that will attract employers to Michigan.

REP. PHIL POTVIN: Jobs, reform P-20 school funding and to continue to balance the state budget in June. Our state unemployment is over 9 percent. We want our citizens to be active wage earners. The best way to promote jobs is with a positive business environment.

Name something that occurred during the past House session that you thought was successful. Also, name one thing you felt was unproductive or a bad idea.

MATUREN: After passing over 600 laws during its first 18 months, the best thing the legislature has done recently was to take a summer recess.

One of the worst things they did during that period was to cut funding to our already-underfunded K-12 schools and universities by over $1 billion. Incumbent Rep. Phil Potvin lately has been claiming that he “increased funding to our local school districts,” but that is simply not true. The truth is that Potvin and his legislature cut millions of dollars to our local districts. Look it up or ask any local school administrator.

POTVIN: (One success was) my anti-bullying bill. I am proud to be working with our public schools to create a safe learning environment for our children.

(Something unproductive was) a bill that allowed unlicensed classic cars to be driven during the month of August for free. A classic car 10-year license is only $30. I was the only NO vote in the House of Representatives.

There is a proposal in the house that would eliminate personal property tax in Michigan. Explain why you support or disagree with the bill.

MATUREN: Michigan's government cut business taxes by 83 percent in 2011, while raising our personal income tax. The legislature now proposes eliminating the personal property tax, a further tax cut for businesses, this time at the expense of local governments, which use that money to pay for police, firefighters, schools and roads.

I would support personal property tax cuts for small businesses, assuming the revenue to local governments could be replaced. But if Michigan can afford further tax cuts, I would favor reducing personal income tax, so consumers have more money to spend, which would stimulate the economy and create jobs.

POTVIN: I agree that we should eliminate the personal property tax. However, the challenge is to not cripple our cities, schools and counties by removal of these vital tax dollars for their operations without some dollar replacement.

Has the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax helped or hurt the state? Explain your reasoning. 

MATUREN: Lowering business taxes only is a short-term boost. When it's done at the expense of infrastructure, schools and higher taxes on individuals, we're not actually increasing incomes or overall economic activity.

(For example), if you take $100 away from a consumer to give a $100 tax-break to a business, then that consumer is $100 poorer, and has that much less money to spend at the business. That business won't hire more employees without having more customers. You haven't created a solid customer base for that business over the long term.

POTVIN: Elimination of the MBT has helped our state. Our bond rating has improved to AA. Our national rating as a business-friendly state has improved from last, to being in the top 20. Our unemployment rate has improved from 14 percent to 9 percent. As a result, our attitude has improved and Michigan citizens are smiling more.

Are public schools adequately funded in Michigan? After cutting staff, programing such as art and music, and reducing other costs, how should districts address funding shortfalls?

MATUREN: School districts have not been able to make ends meet and have had to make deep, painful cuts. While local districts can propose millages to fund facilities and infrastructure, they cannot do so to meet operating costs, thus they have no means to address shortfalls other than by program cuts, outsourcing and layoffs. That can hurt our communities and the quality of our children's education.

Funding cuts that Phil Potvin supported recently forced the closure of the Stanwood and Morley elementary schools, the elimination of Chippewa Hill's orchestra program and the layoff of 39 employees in Cadillac, Potvin’s hometown.

POTVIN: When you compare public schools to parochial and charter schools, they are (adequately funded). However, the real challenge is leveling the funding dollars for public schools.

Proposal A has allowed this uneven funding in public schools since 1994, and goes back even farther into the 1970s. Proposal A has helped reduce the gap, but a funding gap remains.

We are working to change this uneven funding. Wages and benefits make up 85 to 92 percent of all public school budgets. Staffing and programs are decided by local school boards and local school administrators. How funds are spent, is their responsibility.