Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Lansing— Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to begin a major push for a new publicly owned bridge to Canada at the Mackinac Policy Conference that kicks off Wednesday.
Transportation issues and Michigan’s recovering economy are expected to be major topics at the three-day conference on Mackinac Island, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Besides the bridge, Snyder is also expected to push an initiative to urge state businesses to buy from one another during a conference billed as having a statewide focus that will feature heightened participation from western Michigan.
A bill to authorize the new bridge — formerly known as the Detroit River International Crossing but now dubbed the New International Trade Crossing — could be introduced in the state Senate this week, possibly today.
Snyder — who joins about 1,500 attendees dominated by business people after delivering a corporate tax cut of nearly $1.8 billion in a budget completed four months early — said last week he wants the conference to be a springboard for action on pressing items such as the bridge.
“He’s on a real high,” said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who will attend. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he rides in … with people dropping rose petals in front of him.”
However, “if he can get that bridge done in this legislative session, then I’d like to see him take on global warming next.”
Bridge opponents — including two members of the Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge — also will attend the conference. Snyder has ducked a request from Dan Stamper, the president of Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s bridge company, to debate the bridge issue during the conference.
Snyder backs a bridge that would be privately built but publicly owned. He struck a deal with the federal government under which $550 million fronted by Canada to cover Michigan’s share of the project could be used to leverage more than $2 billion in federal road funds. Moroun has a competing proposal to spend private funds to twin the Ambassador.
Democratic lawmakers have generally supported the public project, while Republicans have generally opposed it. The business community is generally in favor, and the Detroit Regional Chamber strongly supports the bridge, but the largest and most powerful lobby, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, has not taken a position.
“I think the context of the conference, with all of the folks who make things in Michigan and sell them all over the world, is going to be a good one to talk about the merits of solving our transportation debacle between the two borders,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. “It will definitely be a hot topic of conversation.”
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, is interested in introducing the bridge bill, but no timetable is set, spokeswoman Amber McCann said.
Beginning at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and ending at 2 p.m. Friday, all but three sessions will be televised live through Detroit Public Television and live-streamed on the Internet. A link to the live-streaming will be found at http://www.detnews.com/mackinac.
Snyder was heavily involved in developing the agenda, and the governor’s campaign theme about “reinventing Michigan” is also a conference theme, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
In addition to participating in an opening news conference and giving a keynote address Friday, Snyder is expected to participate with Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Michael Finney in a Thursday news conference about the state’s “economic gardening” efforts, including a program to encourage Michigan businesses to buy from other Michigan businesses.
Conference Chairman Charles G. “Chip” McClure said this year’s event will stress statewide issues rather than ones mainly of concern to southeastern Michigan. CEOs from western Michigan were part of a committee that helped plan the conference, he said.
“We’re kind of at a pivotal point with the state, and we have a new administration making significant inroads” on increasing Michigan’s competitiveness, McClure said.
Though some think of the bridge as a regional issue because of the thousands of construction jobs it is expected to create in the Detroit area, the New International Trade Crossing is consistent with the statewide focus because “it’s part of what makes the state competitive,” McClure said.
No Republican presidential candidates are expected to attend the conference. Pundits will be watching for any signs of a prominent GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who is up for re-election in 2012, but there were no signs Friday of any announcements of that nature.
The bridge won’t be the only transportation item discussed. A proposed light-rail project for Woodward Avenue and a high-speed rail project to Chicago that recently won federal funding are on the agenda, Patterson said.