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Seniors could play an especially big role in upcoming election

Oct 27, 2014

Credit Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Michiganders age 50 and over are expected to represent well over half of the voters that show up to the polls on November 4.

That is pretty typical of a non-presidential election. But seniors and retirees are already playing an especially important role in this year’s election.

Perry Seavitt, a 70 year old retired teacher from Freemont, considers himself a Republican. But he is not sure which candidate for governor will get his vote. He says he is leaning toward Democrat Mark Schauer because incumbent Gov. 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 said.

AARP Michigan expects 60% of all voters on November 4 to be over age 50.

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

That is one reason Democrats are focusing much of their message on the “pension tax.”

State Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, 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,” said Dillon. “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.

“I think we’ve been very proactive on doing things for seniors,” Snyder told reporters at a press conference this week, “(adding funding for) meals on wheels, more MI Choice program allowing them to stay at home, more independence.”

Snyder also recently released a campaign ad attempting to appeal to seniors.

Bob Schneider with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council says there is no doubt that taxes have gone up for seniors under Gov. 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 said.

But Schneider says it is 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? 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?