Around the capitol

By Lena Khzouz Magyar

State Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D–Taylor) said he was pleased that the Senate Economic Development Committee has begun hearings on the New International Trade Crossing proposal and the authorizing legislation, Senate Bills 410 and 411, which would allow the state to enter into a public-private agreement to build the project.

Hopgood reports that, in the first hearing, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and the Canadian government both reaffirmed that the state of Michigan and its taxpayers would bear no financial responsibility for the new crossing.

Canada also confirmed again its offer to pay Michigan’s $550 million in costs for the project and that Canada would be on the hook to cover any shortfalls that might occur between the bond payments and the toll revenues, though government officials do not expect that to be the case.

Hopgood added that Calley stressed the importance of the new crossing for job growth in Michigan, saying its greatest opportunities for growth comes from the trade of goods.

He pointed out increases in trade volume at the Detroit-Windsor border crossing, noting the $62.4 billion in trade between Michigan and Canada in 2010 — a 43 percent increase from 2009.

One in eight jobs in southeastern Michigan are dependent on trade with Canada and one in seven in western Michigan is, he said.

Calley also said the bottleneck at the Ambassador Bridge was causing undue delays that cost businesses millions of dollars each year and that building the new crossing would remove a barrier to job growth for Michigan companies.

According to Hopgood, Matthew Moroun, son of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun, offered the opportunity to testify on the project in the second day of hearings.

However, the younger Moroun publicly contradicted statements he and other bridge company officials previously made about when the Ambassador Bridge’s twin span would actually be built and whether it would be a replacement or an expansion of the existing crossing, according to a press release from Hopgood’s office.

A number of committee members criticized the bridge company for the tactics it has employed in opposition to the proposed public crossing, according to Hopgood.

Hopgood said the committee is expected to continue deliberations through the summer months to ensure the issue is fully vetted. He was expected to testify before the committee in support of the new crossing this week.