May 22 • 07:25 PM

House hopefuls tackle issues at Imlay debate

Candidates for the 82nd District State Representative seat Jason Blauet (D), Todd Courser (R), Gary Howell (R), Bernard Jocuns, Jr. (D), Kevin Daley (R), Randy St. Laurent (R), John Stack (R), Bill Marquardt (D), Paul St. Louis (R) and Benjamin Stahl (R) pose for photo after July 11 forum in Imlay City. photo by Catherine Minolli.

July 16, 2008
IMLAY CITY — All ten candidates for the 82nd District House of Representatives seat were on hand for last Thursday's "Get Out The Vote" debate at the Imlay City Middle School.

Candidates on the Tues., Aug. 5 primary election ballot include: Republicans Todd Courser, Kevin Daley, Gary Howell, Randy St. Laurent, Paul St. Louis, John Stack and Ben Stahl; and Democrats Jason Blauet, Bernard Jocuns Jr. and Bill Marquardt.

Sponsored by Imlay City American Legion Post 135, the forum provided an opportunity for each candidate to discuss issues pertinent to local and state residents, based on questions from local media, including the Tri-City Times.

At the top of the list of questions was what the candidates would do to improve the economy and lessen the financial burden on residents.

Answers ranged from eliminating the MBT tax, to cutting gas taxes, to reducing regulations on businesses.

"That's the million dollar question," said Todd Courser. "We have too much regulation and taxes are too high. This used to be a state where people would come to stake out their fortunes. We need to be able to do that again."

Alluding to Lapeer County's nearly 10% unemployment rate, John Stack said the figure may be the tip of the iceberg.

"That figure represents only those who are collecting (unemployment)," said Stack. "There are more people out of work than that. Manufacturing needs to return to the state. I'd like to see a recycling plant built right here in Lapeer County."

Bill Marquardt supported any and all efforts to relieve the financial pain for residents.

"We need to create incentives for small businesses and to create jobs for workers," Marquardt said. "We have to help people get back on their feet."

"We are overtaxing and overregulating our businesses," said Gary Howell. "We are taking 32% more tax money from our businesses at a time when our economy is at its lowest ebb."

Ben Stahl said gas taxes need to be cut and a replacement found for the state's business tax. "People can't afford to pay $4.25 for a gallon of gas," he said. "We also need a plan to stop outsourcing our jobs."

Randy St. Laurent also favors efforts to enhance the state's business environment. "We need a major overhaul of our tax system," he said. "Businesses are going to shop for the best possible economic climate so they can succeed. I advocate for a simple, fair, transparent tax that will attract business to Michigan and Lapeer County."

Jason Blauet believes it's important to convince voters that despite the current economic malaise, there is always reason for optimism.

:This is a problem that goes beyond Michigan," said Blauet. "We have to start givng people hope again. It's not going to stay bad forever.

"I'm looking at the long term," he continued. "There are no quick fixes. This can't be turned around in a year or two. It took a long time to get to this point."

The question of where to cut money from the existing state budget was a challenge for each of the candidates.

Howell, Marquardt and Kevin Daley said cutting the pay and benefits for state legislators would represent an immediate and longterm cost savings.

"State reps are walking away with lifetime insurance and benefits," said Marquardt. "Term limits are resulting in greater turnover. We cannot afford to keep doing this. Let's start trimming some of the excess."

"We have to put our money where are mouths are and cut expenses," Howell challenged. "The legislature is running amok. We have unnecessary commissions. I would move to abolish some of these agencies. We spend more money on our prisons than on education. That's upsidedown government."

Ben Stahl said cutting pay and benefits for legislators is not the answer. "I think cutting our salaries is a weak argument," he said. "If the people want it, then I'm for it. But don't be fooled or confused by this."

St. Laurent suggested cutting health insurance for school employees, along with eliminating Michigan State Police road patrols. "County deputies can do it better and more cheaply," he said.

Courser said he would favor cutting entitlement programs statewide, while Stack recommended cutting back on meals for prisoners, from three to two meals per day.

Many of the candidates said they favor prison reform, claiming that too much of the state's budget is used to pay for innappropriately comfortable conditions for lawbreakers.

"People in our prisons are sometimes treated better than citizens on the outside," Kevin Daley said. "They have air conditioning and all the conveniences. I think our prisons are too nice."

"We're spending $35,000 a year for each prisoner," said Howell. "We have to find cheaper ways to fund our prisons. I think we need to move toward privatization of some services."

Bernard Jocuns Jr. argued that non-violent offenders are often not a threat to society and should not be subject to incarceration as a punishment.

"We have a lot of people in jail that are first-time (non-violent) offenders. These people should be on tethers and not behind bars. A lot of them can be supervised in less costly ways," Jocuns said.

Stahl said that imprisoning illegal immigrants creates an additional financial strain on the prison system.

"We're spending about $2 billion on those prisoners. We should get them to grow their own food," Stahl said. "There are also lucrative contracts given to those who provide services to prisons."

Another issue of concern was funding for public education. Several candidates criticized the state legislature for not providing schools with more timely assurances of forthcoming per-pupil foundation grants.

"I support the Fair Tax," opined Randy St. Laurent. "Proposal A is still the best thing that happened to the State of Michigan and for our students."

Howell cited the perceived inequity in what Detroit Public School students receive from the state, versus children in other districts. "Our full-time legislature has failed miserably," said Howell. "They didn't get a budget adopted until Oct. 1 last year. Students in Detroit are getting $11,000 per student, compared to $7,000 for Lapeer County kids. That is grossly unfair."

"We have to put a deadline on school funding," added Daley. "The districts need to know what they are going to be getting so they can plan. And we've got to turn this economy around so we can better support our schools."

"I support deadlines and predictable funding," urged Marquardt. "School funding has to be equitable, reliable and predictable. We don't want our schools to have to go out and borrow money until the funding from the state arrives."

The final question of the evening asked each candidate if they had the opportunity to pass just one law while in the legislature, what would that be?

Blauet, Courser and Daley said they would pass a law to end the state business tax. Howell said he would limit the power of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. "The DEQ is a building killer," he said. "We are losing much due to bureaucratic delays."

Marquardt said he would pass a law to create jobs and help build the state's economy. Randy St. Laurent said he would pass a Fair Tax to help put Michigan residents back to work. Paul St. Louis said he would pass legislation requiring that solutions be found and legislation passed in a timely manner.

John Stack said he would pass an energy law that would create new jobs. Ben Stahl said he would pass a combined law that would include a gas sales tax cut, elimination of the business tax and the abolition of abortion.

The Republican and Democratic winners in the Aug. 5 primary will face off in the November general election.

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