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Seniors Could Play An Especially Big Role In Upcoming Election

Michiganders age 50 and over are expected to represent well over half of the voters that show up to the polls on November Fourth.

That’s pretty typical of a non-presidential election.

But as The Michigan Public Radio Network’s Jake Neher reports, seniors and retirees are playing an especially important role in this year’s election.

Perry Seavitt is a 70 year old retired teacher from Freemont. He considers himself a Republican, but he’s not sure which candidate for governor will get his vote. But he’s leaning toward Democrat Mark Schauer. That’s because incumbent Governor Rick Snyder decided to start taxing retiree pensions.

“I’ve heard that, over TV, that the one candidate wants to get rid of that, which, I’m in favor of that,” he says.

But Seavitt admits he’s puzzled by conflicting messages about seniors he’s been hearing in one campaign ad after another.

“He created a new tax on seniors’ retirement,” it says.  “As governor, I’ll end the Snyder pension tax.”

That’s an ad from Democratic candidate for governor Mark Schauer’s campaign. Here’s another one paid for by the Republican Governor’s Association attacking Schauer’s record.

“For seniors on a fixed income, it could mean an extra $1,700 a year,” it says.  “Higher prices just to stay warm.”

AARP Michigan spokesperson Mark Hornbeck:

“It’s a huge deal to reach out to that constituency, because they’re dedicated voters and they make up such a large percentage of the overall electorate,” he says.

He expects 60 % of all voters on November Fourth to be over age 50.

That’s one reason Democrats are focusing much of their message on the pension tax. State Representative Brandon Dillon chairs the campaign committee that’s trying to elect more Democrats to the state House. He says the pension tax is the top issue moving votes in their favor.

“It riles people,” he says.  “And that’s the reason, I think, the governor’s race is so close and that a lot of our House races are very competitive.”

Snyder is in an awkward position of having to explain these complex policy decisions. He says by ending income tax exemptions for pension income, the state is now treating all retirement income the same. That includes 401(k)s, social security, and pensions. He says that makes the retirement tax system fairer.

The governor has been trying to shift focus on some of the other things his administration has done for seniors. He’s released a campaign ad focusing on seniors. And he had this to say to reporters at a recent press conference.

“I think we’ve been very proactive on doing things for seniors – meals on wheels, more MI Choice program allowing them to stay at home, more independence,” he says.

Bob Schneider with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council says there’s no doubt taxes have gone up for seniors under Governor Snyder. He says many current seniors do not have to worry about the pension tax because they were grandfathered them in.

But he says the governor raised their taxes in other ways. Schneider says seniors lost a special benefit on property tax exemptions.

“A typical senior that’s eligible for the credit may lose two, three, four hundred dollars in tax credit based on that change, given that seniors aren’t given preferential treatment under the credit,” he says.

But Schneider says it’s fair for the governor to point out that Michigan was unique in how many tax breaks it gave seniors before he took office.

“Is that right or wrong?” he asks.  “Well, that’s philosophical. But we definitely were a very generous state with retirees and probably still are, to some degree.”

The question now is, how generous will retirees and seniors feel toward politicians of either party on Election Day?

Jake Neher is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He covers the State Legislature and other political events in Lansing.
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