The former congressman from Battle Creek told The Associated Press on Monday that he loves his job helping construction trade unions find more work, but that being governor would be an opportunity to "fight for an economy that works for everyone."
Schauer, 51, said his frustration with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's decisions — including to cut taxes for businesses and raise them for individuals — combined with recent support from fellow Democrats, have him taking a hard look at running in 2014.
A recent memorandum prepared for the Democratic Governors Association cited Schauer as a strong candidate to take on Snyder. Other potential Democratic candidates, including former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak and state Board of Education President John Austin, began endorsing Schauer last week, making his gubernatorial bid highly likely in the near future.
Highlighting what is sure to be a major issue in the gubernatorial race, Schauer said Snyder's tax policies took money out of a consumer-driven economy where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.
"What has become abundantly clear to me and many in this state is that Rick Snyder has chosen a path," he said in his first interview since he began seriously considering a run. "It's a path that believes you build a strong economy by giving big tax cuts to corporations and wealthy special interests while cutting funding for schools and universities while raising taxes on the middle class and retirees, on the working poor. It's a flawed economy policy that is not working for everyone."
Snyder signed sweeping tax changes in 2011. To offset a $1.6 billion business tax cut, he and GOP lawmakers approved a $1.4 billion increase on individuals — including making fewer homeowners eligible for a tax credit, ending a deduction for children, requiring people to pay taxes on their pension income and reducing a refundable credit for low-income workers.
The first-term governor has defended his tax overhaul, saying a "right-sizing" of business and personal taxes was overdue when he took office and the tax system is simpler, fairer, more efficient and structurally better for the state budget.
"We know in Michigan we have to balance the budget, so to pay for it they took a billion dollars out of funding for our schools and cut funding for higher education, raised tuition for families trying to send their kids to school," Schauer said. "It resulted in teacher layoffs and larger class sizes."
A spokeswoman for Snyder, who has not launched a re-election campaign but is expected to do so later, said he has been focused on "getting things done and bringing our state back."
"The picture 2 ½ years ago with continuous billion-dollar budget deficits is thankfully and markedly gone and far different today," Sara Wurfel said, citing the state's improved credit rating and saying the unemployment rate has dropped by one-third under Snyder's watch though more needs to be done. "We're now growing and able to reinvest in Michigan's future and moving forward, including on education funding."
Before winning a south-central Michigan congressional seat in 2008, Schauer was Democratic leader in the state Senate. He lost re-election in 2010 and now works as a business development representative for the Michigan Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust. In the course of that job, he said he has actively opposed Michigan's new right-to-work law — which prohibits employees from having to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment — along with calls by some Republican legislators to repeal a law guaranteeing better wages on public construction projects.
Schauer characterized Snyder — a former Gateway computer executive and venture capitalist — as a "corporate guy" and himself as "grassroots-oriented," saying he is the son of a teacher and a nurse.
He said he did not initially heed calls from those who encouraged him to run for governor because he was not looking for a new job and liked spending more time with his wife, three grown step-children and four grandchildren. He said he has been thinking about how he can best help people, though, and accused Snyder of misleading voters in his 2010 campaign.
"He was able to fool a lot of people that he was a moderate, dispassionate, green-eye shade accountant. Folks figured out that that's not true. They understand whose side Rick Snyder's on," Schauer said.