BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — The issue garnering the most attention from candidates in the 101st state House District isn't jobs or the economy.
Republican challenger Ray Franz and his supporters have pounded Democratic incumbent Dan Scripps with fliers and mailings over legislation Scripps sponsored to protect ground water from unreasonable withdrawals.
Scripps, an attorney from Leland, counters that Franz "mischaracterized" the legislation. He said House Bill 5319 in fact provides ground water the same protection afforded to water in lakes and rivers.
"I want to make sure we are not opening the door to companies ... that come in and take our ground water and leave our residents and farmers high and dry," he said.
Franz, a retired grocery store owner from Onekama, said placing ground water in the public trust opens it up to taxation and erodes private property rights. Scripps introduced another bill that bans taxation of private wells, but the two bills aren't enjoined.
"It's my opinion we don't protect (an) individual's property rights by giving them to the state," Franz said.
Scripps and Franz faced off in 2008 to represent the same district, an area that stretches from Leelanau County south to Mason County, including Benzie and Manistee counties. Scripps won that contest in the traditionally Republican district by almost 20 percentage points.
Both candidates call their second go-round a toss-up, since many believe the state's economic turmoil favors Republican gains in the general election. The race hasn't witnessed the heavy special interest spending that characterized 2008, but neither candidate would be surprised by a last-minute ad blitz.
"It could be left to Dan and I to fight out or it could become an all-out battle; who knows?" Franz said.
The candidates find common ground in their shared desire to repeal the Michigan Business Tax and replace it with a tax on corporate profits, but they differ on questions of energy use and generation, the economy, and how to balance the state budget.
Scripps favors more state investment in renewable and alternative energy to create green jobs. He wants the state to require 30 percent of electrical generation come from renewable energy by 2025 to help spur growth and increase jobs in the state's renewable energy industry.
Franz said renewable energy is too expensive, will raise rates and drive business out of the state.
"Renewable energy hasn't been shown to be effective or efficient," Franz said. "I'm still a nuclear power guy; I think it's the ultimate environmental energy."
Franz wants to reduce state regulations and lower taxes to attract business. He said the state needs to move further to reduce the cost of state employee pensions and benefits to balance the budget.
"We need to get off the backs of some of the businesses in the area," Franz said.
He cited as an example state environmental regulations that he said prevented some farmers from growing cranberries.
Scripps said the state needs to focus on long-term structural changes in state government and the tax system.
"We have this one-year budget and every year we make cuts, but the real big things we need to do will take five years," Scripps said. "I can't find anybody who thinks it's right to spend more on corrections than higher education, but if you are only trying to find balance in a single-year budget, it is ultimately what the result is."
Coming Saturday: Grand Traverse County board features two contested races.