TRAVERSE CITY — A retired teacher and a school board member with no party affiliation are taking on a well-funded incumbent Republican legislator for the state House.
Democrat John Scrudato and independent candidate Megan Crandall will challenge state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, in the 104th District, which consists of Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties.
The winner of the two-year term Nov. 2 will head to Lansing amid state fiscal troubles and political changes. A new governor will take office in January.
All three candidates said the state's economic recovery and K-12 education funding reform would be among their top priorities.
Michigan could become more attractive to companies if the state's tax structure was more conducive to business owners, said Schmidt, 44, who is seeking his second term.
He anticipates victory for Republicans in the governor's race, and believes tax policy and regulation reform could happen in the first six months of Rick Snyder's administration.
Schmidt wants to roll back personal property taxes to encourage more investment in capital projects and eliminate the Michigan Business Tax and its 22 percent surcharge.
"You're hoping that it's going to stimulate the economy and you'll be able to make up for it in other revenues," Schmidt said. "If we raise taxes now, it could extinguish that little flicker of economic growth."
With federal stimulus funding no longer able to prop up future budgets, lawmakers are going to face more cuts to services, he said.
He opposed a recent measure that transferred about $208 million from the School Aid Fund into the general fund to cover community colleges, and supports reinstating the "2X" equity formula that provides more state funding for the lowest-funded districts.
Schmidt said the schools budget should be finished before districts' fiscal years start July 1. The state's fiscal year doesn't start until Oct. 1, which means district budgets often are set using projections of per-student funding revenue.
"I understand their frustration," he said.
In his first term, Schmidt served on committees for energy and technology, transportation, the Great Lakes and the environment, and intergovernmental and regional affairs. He sponsored a bill that would keep public universities and colleges from prohibiting concealed firearms on their campuses.
More than once, he cited his position as a new representative in the minority party as a roadblock to moving legislation.
"I had a good freshman term," he said. "(I) didn't get done everything that I wanted to get done."
His campaign raised $5,620 from Sept. 3 to Oct. 17, bringing his monetary contributions in the current election cycle to $81,555, according to state campaign finance statements filed last week. He's received roughly $1,000 in total in-kind contributions.
Schmidt has spent nearly $91,224 throughout his campaign, dwarfing the amounts generated by his two challengers who raised less than $10,000 between them.
"It comes down to the votes," Schmidt said. "That's ultimately the final say."