CHICAGO — With the budget behind him, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said his top priority is swift passage of a bill that allows the state to enter into a public-private partnership to build a $4 billion Detroit River bridge that will be partially financed with tax-exempt bonds.
Snyder said he wants the legislation, which Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, introduced last week, to be passed by July 1.
The freshman governor has won fast approval of several of his other proposals, including an overhaul of the state’s emergency financial management law. But top lawmakers last week said this measure would likely take longer.
The proposed bridge is one of the most controversial topics in the state. Lawmakers have spent years debating it and earlier bills have failed generally along party lines, with Republicans opposed.
Snyder’s support as a top Republican is expected to give the project fresh life. Richardville, the legislation’s chief sponsor, last year was opposed to the project.
The governor first announced his support during his state of the state address earlier this year. But last week, after the Legislature passed the budget in record time, Snyder started heavily promoting the bridge — as well as urging the 30-day passage of the legislation — at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s popular annual public policy conference on Mackinac Island.
“There is no good reason not to build this bridge,” Snyder said during a radio interview at the conference. “Michigan would not be using its credit at all for this project, and if you look at the legislation, it says no taxpayer debt.”
The governor said similar bills have failed in the past because of misinformation and a mismanaged legislative process.
“There is no obligation to the state, no recourse back to the state — that’s the way this is structured.”
The bridge would be built over the Detroit River between Michigan and Windsor, Canada, spanning the busiest trade route in the U.S.
The price tag is expected to reach $3.8 billion. The project would require a partnership between Michigan, Windsor, and the Canadian and U.S. governments.
Senate Bills 410 and 411 follow Snyder’s draft bills. They would create a new bond-issuing authority to finance and oversee construction and operation of the so-called New International Trade Crossing.
The authority would be allowed to enter into a public-private partnership for up to 50 years and issue 50-year tax-exempt bonds. The legislation limits risk for Michigan taxpayers by requiring debt to be backed solely by project revenue and bars the issuance of any debt that carries the general obligation or moral pledge of Michigan or any political subdivision within the state.
The Senate Economic Development Committee will be the first to consider the measures.
At the end of 50 years, Canada and Michigan would each own half of the bridge, and the state could re-lease the asset to generate more proceeds, Snyder said.
Critics note that the proposed bridge is just two miles downriver from the existing privately owned Ambassador Bridge, whose owner is pushing for his own replacement span. They argue that projected toll revenue will not be sufficient to pay annual costs.
Supporters like the governor say future trade projections support the need for two bridges, that the project will create thousands of new jobs, and that Michigan’s success in the future will come from its role as an exporter.
Snyder’s support followed the Canadian government’s offer of $550 million to Michigan. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood approved the governor’s request to use the money as state matching funds for federal dollars that are used for transportation projects across the state.