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GOP hopefuls court Mich.: Candidates vow to fix state's economy

BY ANDY KROLL AND JULIE ROWE
Daily Staff Reporters
Published January 14, 2008

With the Michigan primary only a day away, Republican presidential candidates have made numerous campaign stops in Michigan, which is struggling along with the once-booming auto industry that drove it for so many years. The state ended last year with the nation's highest unemployment rate in November: 7.4 percent. The rest of the country averaged 4.7 percent. And the recent subprime mortgage crisis has hit Michigan especially hard, leading to an uptick in foreclosures in an area where the housing market was already slow.

All weekend, the Republican presidential hopefuls focused their speeches on how they would help residents deal with high unemployment and low wages if they were elected.


MIKE HUCKABEE

At a speech Friday before the Detroit Economic Club at the historic Masonic Temple, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said a federal government with him at the helm would change federal tax policies and regulatory systems in order to save Michigan's ailing economy.

If elected, the former Arkansas governor said, he would work to eliminate federal, personal and corporate income taxes and replace them with a single consumption tax much like states' existing retail taxes.

He said the tax cuts would both "encourage people to work harder" and "encourage people to invest" in American companies.

Although Huckabee emphasized that he was a proponent of free trade, he said such trade relationships needed increased federal regulation in order to "level the playing field" for Michigan manufacturers and other companies.

"A lot of it is changing our taxes and changing our regulatory systems, making it so the people in this state can manufacture and build again competitively," Huckabee said. "It's also making sure our trading partners are playing under the same rules as Michigan manufacturers."

Huckabee pledged to use federal resources to revitalize Michigan's economy. He said training programs and education for workers would be encouraged, but not controlled by the federal government.

Despite plans of increased federal trade regulation, Huckabee stressed that his campaign was built on limited federal government and increased responsibility for state governments.

"The best government is the most local government," Huckabee said. "Washington loves to tell us what to do and then not give us the resources with which to do it."

Huckabee was not specific on what resources he would provide, but he pledged to find solutions to the strained economy after taking office.

LSA junior Justin Zatkoff, chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans and co-chair of the Midwest Students for McCain said that Huckabee's goal to implement the FairTax plan is one way to deal with what he says is a "clearly unacceptable" taxation system.

"People who support the FairTax have come out and supported Mike Huckabee," Zatkoff said. "With Michigan's economy, one thing we can all agree on is that raising taxes does not work. Not only do we tend to raise taxes, but with the federal government, we waste so much money that we need to change something."

Huckabee said in Detroit and in a speech in Grand Rapids on Saturday morning that he would work to reform the tax code, an initiative he said would save Michigan's economy.

"I think it's fair to say that there was a time in this nation's history when Michigan saved America, and now I think it's time for America to save Michigan," he said.


MITT ROMNEY

In campaign stops throughout Michigan yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised that if elected, he wouldn't rest until Michigan regains its status as the "economic powerhouse" it once was.

Romney, the son of George Romney, former Michigan governor and president of American Motors Company, said Michigan's economy was failing in part due to over-taxation of both individuals and companies. To correct this, Romney said he would make Bush's tax cuts permanent.

Speaking at the Ford Senior Citizens Activity Center in Taylor and at a dinner meeting of the Ottawa County Republicans in Hudsonville, Romney said he would work to stimulate the economy in Michigan by putting more money in the hands of private research companies.

"I want to invest in research and development," he said. "You know where we invest substantially in science, we lead the world."