Gov. Rick Snyder: We need to build new bridge to Canada

By Brent Snavely
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder urged backers of a new bridge to Canada on Monday to do more than just vote “no” on Proposal 6.

“That’s not good enough,” Snyder told several hundred people in Southgate. “I need you to go out, and the next person you see, and the next person (you see) after that, and say … ‘We need to build this bridge.’ ”

Snyder is using public appearances and counting on word-of-mouth to counter an estimated $10-million-plus TV ad blitz in support of Proposal 6 by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun.

Proposal 6 calls for a constitutional amendment that would require a statewide and local vote before any new bridges and tunnels could be built between Michigan and Canada. If passed, it could delay or derail plans for a $2.1-billion New International Trade Crossing and other projects.

The NITC would be paid for by Canada, create an estimated 10,000 construction jobs and would ease the flow of everything from auto parts to food products between Ontario and Michigan.

“So, this is a great deal,” Snyder said.

But Proposal 6 opponents are wielding the news media equivalent of a slingshot against Moroun’s carpet bombing of Michigan’s airwaves. Moroun’s ubiquitous ads are designed to cast doubts about the plan to build the bridge and the final cost.

The State of Michigan is barred from spending taxpayer dollars on political commercials. But Snyder said Monday that businesses and other bridge supporters are planning a last-minute push.

“Some members of the business community are stepping up, putting dollars on the table,” Snyder said. “But it will be fairly short and limited.”

Tom Shields, spokesman for Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, a coalition of business, labor and government groups that support the NITC, declined to provide details about plans for the ad campaign.

As of late September, Proposal 6 opponents had raised about $100,000, but Shields told the Free Press much of that money already has been spent on the failed legal attempt to prevent Proposal 6 from getting on next month’s ballot.

“It will be our committee. We’ll let you know when we are ready to go,” Shields said.

Snyder said Moroun is outspending the business and labor community that oppose Proposal 6 because political budgets are strained by a number of other controversial ballot issues.

Proposal 2, for example, would protect collective-bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution. That issue has business and labor groups spending money against each other instead of joining forces to defeat Proposal 6.

“Part of the challenge we have this year is we have a crazy ballot year. We have six of these (statewide ballot issues.),” Snyder said. “So a lot of resources are being tied up in all of those different proposals.”

What’s more, Snyder and Canadian Consul General Roy Norton both said Moroun’s ads are filled with misleading statements — such as a claim that it will cost Michigan taxpayers.

Under an agreement announced in June, Canada would pay for all of the construction costs for the $2.1-billion project, including Michigan’s $550-million portion.

Moroun’s commercials say Michigan would somehow get stuck paying for cost overruns, or other hidden costs.

“They are just wrong … there are no Michigan taxpayer dollars involved at all,” Snyder said.

Norton went to great lengths to explain that Canada will bear all of the costs for the NITC.

“We will pay for the interchange on the U.S. side, we will backstop the private-sector builder of the bridge. If there are cost overruns, ultimately, they are on us,” Norton said. “If tolls are insufficient, that too will be on us. The State of Michigan pays nothing for this project and faces no liability.”

Some commercials from a Moroun-backed group called the People Should Decide allege that steel from China will be used to build the bridge.

“For that lie, and it is a lie, … frankly they should be ashamed of themselves,” Norton said.

“The People Should Decide fully stands behind our ads regarding foreign steel and foreign labor, which is precisely why Michigan voters should have a say on the bridge ballot issue,” said Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for the Moroun business network and head of the People Should Decide.

It is true that the State of Michigan has asked for a waiver from the federal government that would allow the bridge to be built with steel from outside the U.S., but both Snyder and Norton said all of the steel will come from either the U.S. or Canada.

“The governments of Canada and Michigan have repeatedly made clear that there will only be U.S. or Canadian-made steel in the project,” Norton said.

Snyder also reacted Monday for the first time to the UAW’s decision to remain neutral on Proposal 6.

“I don’t understand why they would” remain neutral, Snyder said.

UAW President Bob King told the Free Press on Saturday that the UAW has decided to remain neutral on Proposal 6.

King’s comments came after the Free Press reported last week that the union had considered joining forces with Moroun to pass Proposal 6 in return for Moroun’s support on Proposal 2, the collective-bargaining ballot issue backed by unions.

“I find that difficult, in terms of how they could get to that conclusion given the broad support from everyone else and that this would create a lot of union jobs — I mean this is a great job creator,” Snyder said.