Calley crosses bridge at Metro Council event

July 13, 2012
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Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley called the proposed bridge between Windsor and Detroit the “worst-kept secret ever” and chided the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, which has spanned the Detroit River for decades, for being selfish and delaying the state’s economic growth.

But Calley had little to say last week at the Grand Valley Metro Council meeting about how the state will find suitable replacement revenue for municipalities and counties once the personal property tax is erased for manufacturers and commercial firms. This funding is, perhaps, the most important issue to the council’s membership.

Calley said the New International Trade Crossing agreement for the bridge project that Gov. Rick Snyder and his staff negotiated with Canadian officials was more complex and difficult to complete than if state lawmakers had approved a resolution authorizing it.

Legislators, except for members of one committee, effectively backed away from any involvement in the project last fall. Snyder signed the agreement last month, a move Calley said was allowed under the state constitution and a couple of state laws.

“That was the worst-kept secret ever,” said Calley, of the administration’s work with Canada. Calley is a former two-term member of the state House, the state’s second-youngest lieutenant governor and a former community banker who earned his MBA from GVSU.

“The Canadians have agreed to pay for the improvements on the Michigan side.”

The cost to Michigan for letting Canada foot the entire design and construction tab for the bridge is the state has agreed to forgo any toll revenue until the bonds are paid off, which Calley said could take four or even five decades. When the bondholders are made whole, the state will split the toll revenue with Canada.

Calley also said the NITC just might become the most profitable bridge in the nation or possibly the world once it’s open because it will connect the “two largest trade partners on the face of the earth.” He stamped the agreement as “a good deal for Michigan.”

Calley took the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, to task. The firm is owned by the wealthy Moroun family and the company has spent a reported $9.4 million on TV ads over the last 18 months to stop the agreement with Canada, according to nonprofit watchdog group the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“The selfishness of one entity is putting the whole state on hold,” said Calley of Detroit International.

The Morouns have reportedly financed a ballot referendum group called The People Should Decide that wants the future of the NITC to be determined by voters this November. Calley, though, confidently said voters would defeat the measure on Nov. 6. “I think it will be perceived as on overreach,” he said.

Calley admitted that he didn’t have an insight as to how the state will replace revenue that will be lost by local governments in the coming years from the near elimination of the personal-property tax. “I’ve long since stopped trying to predict what the Legislature will do on this,” he said. “I want to reassure you that we’re committed to negotiating your situation.”

The current legislation would begin to phase out the personal property tax on industrial and commercial equipment in a few years, but still require utilities to pay the levy. Beginning in January, though, the tax on machinery that costs $40,000 or less will be abated.

The PPT accounted for between 9 and nearly 17 percent of all tax revenue that 13 cities, townships and villages in Kent County received in 2010. The PPT was worth 10 percent of the county’s total tax revenue that year.

Calley said he was standing with the governor on Snyder’s desire to have the state build the health insurance exchange, as outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, rather than let the federal government do it. “We’re still studying the implications of the ruling,” he said of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that upheld the constitutionality of much of the law. “We are adamant that it be a state exchange.”

But the Metro Council’s next featured speaker, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, wants the state to wait until after the November election to begin thinking about building the exchange because the law could be overturned if Republicans hold the House and win the Senate and the White House. Schuette is scheduled to appear here Oct. 9.

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