Johnson, Breznau vie for 97th District House seat

OSCEOLA COUNTY — With the Nov. 6 general election approaching, candidates for the 97th District in the Michigan House of Representatives are hoping to gain voter support.

Voters will head to the polls to elect either incumbent Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, or challenger Chris Breznau, D-Hope, to the state House. The seat holds a two-year term, representing Clare and Gladwin counties as well as the eastern Osceola County townships of Sherman, Highland, Marion, Middle Branch, Osceola, Sylvan, Hersey, Evart and Orient.

Breznau is attending Saginaw Valley State University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in political science. He served as the founder and president of the SVSU College Democrats, and was an intern for the House of Representatives. He currently is the co-owner and fitness instructor for Mobile Fitness.

Since running for House Representative for the 97th District, Breznau has received endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers Bay County, Central Labor Council, Boilermakers Local No. 169, Greater Bay Area Central Labor Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Union of Operating Engineers, Michigan Education Association, Planned Parenthood, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85, Sierra Club, Tri-County Building Trades Council and the UAW Region 1-D CAP Council.

Johnson graduated from Michigan State University with a technical degree in agricultural business management in 1978.

Since that time, he has worked in wholesale sales, farm sales, corporate farming and management of farm supply and agricultural processing businesses. Before being elected to his first term, he managed Johnston Elevator in Clare for 21 years. He also served as the Clare Area Chamber of Commerce president and on several local and statewide boards.

Johnson has received endorsements from the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agribusiness Association, Right to Life of MI-PAC, Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners-A+ Rating, National Rifle Association A Rating, Michigan Townships Association, Small Business Association, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors, Michigan State Police Troopers Association, Michigan Association of Police Organizations, Michigan Restaurant Association, Michigan Association of Independent Insurance Agents and Michigan Manufacturers Association.

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.

• Editor’s Note: Breznau submitted his responses two days past the deadline set for both candidates.

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

CHRIS BREZNAU: Education, jobs and economic climate. To address education, I would restore funding that the current Legislature cut in its 2012-13 budget.

REP. JOEL JOHNSON: The most important issue we face is jobs. We don’t want to see any more of our young people have to leave Michigan for work. This issue also is tied to another important issue, education. We have many job openings in the skilled trades in Michigan that are not being filled because of the lack of people trained in those fields. I have proposed a bill to allow students to replace some of the currently required high level college prep classes with a vocational class. This will give them the option to prepare for a job or further technical training.

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

BREZNAU: One unproductive and/or bad idea was taxing retiree pensions, especially when they had been promised exemption from this tax!

JOHNSON: I was very happy we were able to pass my bill to eliminate retirement healthcare for lawmakers. This eliminated the benefit for me, those who were elected two years before me, and anytime after. In the past, you only had to be a legislator for six years to receive this. This isn’t fair to taxpayers and isn’t an expense we need.

I was disappointed we could not end the program for film incentives. I don’t feel this is an effective use of tax funds and have introduced a bill to eliminate it.

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

BREZNAU: I disagree with it inasmuch as the Legislature doesn’t have an answer as to how that revenue will be replaced if the bill is passed.

JOHNSON: The current proposal is to eliminate the Industrial PPT only. This is a tax that reduces our competitiveness in manufacturing. If we want to keep the manufacturers we have and hope to attract new ones, we need to be competitive with other states. We also need to make sure we don’t eliminate funding our schools and local governments need. I support eliminating this portion of the tax if the revenue can be replaced as has been suggested, with expiring tax credits from the old MI Business Tax.

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

BREZNAU: It has hurt education and our municipalities by deeply cutting revenue sharing and the education budget. Our K-12 public schools have been cut off at the knees trying to survive with the $1 billion shortfall that was cut from their budget. The tax cut to corporations was given on the premise that it would help create jobs throughout the state. There are no additional jobs and it has put our state in great jeopardy.

JOHNSON: This has helped businesses in Michigan create more jobs. Most of our jobs are now from small businesses (our neighbor down the street). These small business now pay only as individuals instead of paying the MBT, a surcharge, and then as an individual. All large corporations will pay a straight 6 percent of profits. The certified tax credit program that chose winners and losers is being ended. This simple program helps all businesses know they can count on paying a reasonable tax. This will help them stay in business and hire the help they need.

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?

BREZNAU: I addressed this earlier that the state’s public school K-12 school budget was cut $1 billion in order to court big corporations that would result in creating more jobs in Michigan. As everyone knows, this didn’t occur, thus our schools are not adequately funded to educate our students in preparation for the 21st century. If elected, I would like to pursue restoring that funding so that school boards don’t have to try to cut beyond the bare bones structure that they are currently operating under.

JOHNSON: I have introduced a bill to provide equity in foundation grant funding for all schools in MI over a three year period. This would bring an additional $350 per student to our lowest funded schools. Our children are worth as much as anyone’s and deserve a level playing field. My bill hasn’t been passed yet, but it has helped to gain an additional $120 per student for our lowest funded schools only for this year. I will continue to work on this needed change.