Chamber Focusing On Lawmakers, Not Ads With NITC Blessing

MIRS News

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce board just endorsed the New International Trade Crossing (NITC), but don’t expect the state’s largest business group to start countering the $5 million anti-bridge ad campaign, yet.

“We hope the Legislature takes it up this fall,” said Chamber President and CEO Rich STUDLEY.

The Chamber had been neutral on one of Gov. Rick SNYDER‘s top priorities, even as other big business groups like Business Leaders for Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce lined up in support. The Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC), which owns the Ambassador Bridge and has mounted a pricey campaign against the NITC, is a member of the Michigan Chamber.

The board made the decision Tuesday morning. It was a long process, starting with Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY this winter requesting that the Chamber take a position (See “Calley To Give Lawmakers The Book On DRIC,” 2/3/11).

Studley noted that the DIBC’s membership was a factor. He said the board also wanted ample time to gather information. Vice President Jim HOLCOMB has been meeting with senators on the issue, Studley said. He said he and Holcomb did site visits in Detroit of the Ambassador Bridge and the location for the proposed new bridge.

And over the past few months, officials have sat down with Snyder, Calley, Legislative Liaison Dick POSTHUMUS, Strategy Director Bill RUSTEM, Chief of Staff Dennis MUCHMORE and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) staff.

Studley said the board concluded that the NITC has the most benefits for the state’s economic future.

“We don’t support legislation that hasn’t been introduced,” he said. “I guess it’s old-fashioned, but we still like to read the bills.”

Studley vowed that the Chamber will be a “strong ally and partner” with the Governor on the bridge.

“You know us pretty well,” Studley said. “We don’t do half-hearted.”

The DIBC has spent $4.7 million in ads against the new bridge this year, while supporters have spent nothing. MIRS asked Studley today if the Chamber might open its wallet for a TV campaign.

He noted that “we just took position yesterday.” He said the focus now is on “actively expressing our support to media and the Legislature.

“We’ll work this issue hard and we’ll do our part,” Studley said. “I think we can have the most impact in one-on-one conversations with lawmakers.”

He added: “We don’t have anything negative or critical to say about the Ambassador Bridge or management. We’re not going to go there.”

MIRS noted that the Chamber could just fund positive ads on the virtues of the NITC.

“I don’t know how it will unfold,” Studley said.

He said that the Chamber today hand-delivered formal letters of support to Calley and bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE (R-Monroe). The group also notified DIBC, but Studley said he didn’t know if the company had responded.

MIRS asked that, given the Chamber’s influence and track record, if that would be enough to get the NITC through the Legislature, despite obstacles.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll find out.”

The Canadian government has agreed to put up Michigan’s $550 million share. Snyder has struck a deal with the Federal Highway Administration to use that toward federal matching funds for other infrastructure projects.

The Chamber has long endorsed more money for infrastructure, including raising the gas tax. MIRS asked if the matching funds were a big factor in the group’s endorsement. Studley said there wasn’t any one factor, but there was “just an accumulation of information over time.”

In a separate action, Studley said the board reaffirmed its support for a “comprehensive statewide transportation investment plan” in light of the upcoming Governor’s special message on transportation. Studley said there are broader issues of transportation, like fixing more than 300 bridges across the state, that shouldn’t be forgotten with the NITC.