Dixon promises tax cut, Whitmer touts population growth plan, abortion rights during Detroit forum

Detroit — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon laid out clashing visions for Michigan's economy during a forum Friday in Detroit with the incumbent emphasizing population growth and abortion rights and Dixon focusing on slashing taxes and regulations.

Less than three weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Whitmer and Dixon separately addressed the Detroit Economic Club during an hour-long event at the MotorCity Casino. Each candidate made promises about how they would use the next four years if chosen to serve in the state's top office.

Whitmer said "reproductive rights" are an economic issue and vowed to organize a panel of stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy for population growth.

"The place to be in North America is the Great Lakes," Whitmer said as she discussed the repercussions of climate change.

"The whole world is going to want to come here or take our water," she added. "We cannot let that happen. But what we can do is have a strategic plan for population growth and management of our natural resources."

If elected, Dixon, a political commentator and businesswoman from Norton Shores, said she would pursue a "responsible reduction" in the state's 4.25% individual income tax "right away."

“I want to make sure that we get as much money back into the pockets of the people as we can, especially as we’re seeing inflation rise in the country and definitely the state of Michigan," Dixon said.

Facing rising consumer prices, Whitmer detailed her continued support for targeted tax relief aimed at retirees and low-wage workers. The governor also said she favored pausing the state's 6% sales tax on gasoline. Michigan's average gas price hit $4.09 per gallon on Friday, up from $3.29 a year ago, according to AAA.

"Because we put our fiscal house and kept some resources on the balance sheets, we could still do some tax relief," Whitmer said.

So far, Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature have failed to agree on a tax cut proposal.

WDIV-TV’s Christy McDonald interviewed both candidates separately on stage at the Detroit Economic Club event.

Recent numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics have shown Michigan dropped 81,900 jobs from December 2018 to August 2022 and its overall labor force decreased by about 99,000 people as the state has attempted to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer took office in January 2019.

Abortion rights strategy

Whitmer avoided referencing Dixon while answering questions in Detroit, but she highlighted the topic that's become a focal point of the race: abortion rights. If voters approve on Nov. 8 Proposal 3 to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, Whitmer said she wants to go to Indiana and Ohio — states with strict limitations on abortion — and "start stealing" business headquarters.

“Go to Purdue and talk to every woman engineer, as well as Ohio State, and bring them to Michigan, where you can have full rights to make your own decisions about your health and your body and a great job," Whitmer said.

Asked about the comment, Dixon told reporters it was "an odd economic plan."

“I would love to see companies coming here because it’s the best place to do business," the GOP nominee said.

Dixon touted her proposal to cut state regulations by 40% over her possible four-year term. So far, she hasn't identified all of the regulations that would be dropped. With safe cities and highly rated schools, Michigan can be the "thriving state in the Midwest," Dixon said.

“And there should be no reason that it’s not," Dixon said. "I keep complaining that people are going to Florida when we have better beaches and no sharks."

The Detroit Economic Club event occurred about a week after Whitmer and Dixon's sparred over pandemic restrictions, abortion, gun control and support for law enforcement during their first televised debate on Oct. 13 in Grand Rapids. The two rivals are scheduled to square off in a second and final debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Oakland University.

WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) will carry that one-hour debate live in Metro Detroit. Elsewhere, the Fox affiliates in Grand Rapids (WXMI-TV) and Lansing (WSYM-TV) will broadcast as well. The Detroit News also will provide coverage and analysis at detroitnews.com