LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's transportation department could be prohibited from doing work related to construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Canada under a spending bill advanced Wednesday by House Republicans, drawing criticism from opposing lawmakers who say Canada already reimburses the state for its expenses.
Michigan currently is prohibited from paying for work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, with an exception if Canada pays it back for activities such as design, engineering and land purchases on the U.S. side. That exemption would be removed under the budget measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee on a 17-12 party-line vote.
"We just want to create more transparency and clarify everything, and we're working on a solution to make everyone happy," said Rep. Matt Maddock, a Milford Republican who suggested a change would be made before the full House votes Thursday. "But the bridge will not be shut down. They're not going to shut down construction on the bridge because that's preposterous."
Yet Democratic Rep. Joe Tate of Detroit expressed concern that the move might slow or halt construction of the $4.4 billion ($5.7 billion Canadian) bridge that is expected to open in 2024. He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to continue letting the state transportation department accept cost reimbursements for Canada's largest infrastructure project. The state spent $24.8 million from January through March.
"This not only creates immense economic development for Michiganians through jobs ... but allows us the opportunity to strengthen Michigan's relationship with its strongest trading partner," Tate said.
In 2012, then-Gov. Rick Snyder and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal calling for Canada to pay for the bridge over the Detroit River after the Republican governor ran into opposition in the GOP-led Legislature. The owners of the nearly 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the lone span between Detroit and Windsor, have long fought construction of the new, government-owned bridge and have donated heavily to lawmakers' campaigns and leadership accounts.
Maddock denied that $6,000 in contributions from Central Transport executive Matthew Moroun had influenced him, saying he does not know Moroun personally and the donations make up a small portion of Maddock's political accounts.
Maddock said he saw a "tremendous benefit" to building the bridge, but he questioned why Michigan has a role in financial transactions with Canada. Budget plans proposed by the Republican-led Senate and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would not include new spending restrictions on the bridge.
State transportation department spokesman Jeff Cranson said the project "enjoys broad support from job providers and labor leaders across Michigan, and we are confident lawmakers know that."
House Bill 4246: http://bit.ly/2Zfweue
Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00