SIDNEY – State Sen. Judy Emmons was one of four Senate Economic Development Committee members to receive campaign funding from the company opposing a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
But she said the $500 she got from Manuel Moroun, owner of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and the Ambassador Bridge, didn’t influence her vote in favor of the project.
As for the three Republicans on the committee who voted against the bridge, “I can’t say for my colleagues, I really can’t,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan.
The committee voted 3-2 last week not to forward legislation creating the bridge to the full Senate for consideration. The $2 billion project has been one of the most divisive issues in Lansing this fall.
Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan labor unions and international businesses all support the bridge as a better means of moving goods across the border to and from Canada, the state’s largest trading partner.
Canada has offered to front Michigan’s $500 million share of the project and allow the state to repay that with future tolls.
Moroun spent millions in advertising opposing the construction of the bridge, dubbed the New International Trade Crossing. Moroun also spent thousands on campaign contributions to senators on the Economic Development Committee.
Emmons received $500 while three of her fellow committee members received up to $4,000 from Moroun, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).
The contributions have sparked outcry that the committee members may have been influenced by Moroun’s contributions. Emmons said the money from Moroun didn’t factor into her vote.
“Money, when you’re running a campaign, comes from a variety of sources,” Emmons said. “It comes from individuals and it comes from organizations. I myself try to weigh the issue. That’s what (people) send me there for. And if you think I’m not doing that, I know they’ll let me know.”
Emmons, who was named the Republican nominee for her seat two weeks after the August primary in 2010, said her short campaign didn’t allow her the time to scrutinize who was donating.
“In my case, my campaign was so brief (we knew) that we had to generate some money just to buy signs,” Emmons said during Monday’s EightCAP Legislative Luncheon at Montcalm Community College. “I honestly didn’t know what was coming in at the time until we filed the report and we could actually look at who donated.”
Three of Emmons’ Republican colleagues on the committee voted against the project. Two Democrats abstained from voting after a series of late amendments to provide incentives for the Detroit neighborhood near the bridge were left out.
The vote killed the legislation required to build the bridge.
State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, believes the bill may have passed if it was written more clearly. He said the amendments added by the two Democratic committee members to protect the neighborhood around the bridge was “pretty ambiguous.”
“If they wanted to offer an amendment that really had a chance, they needed to tighten up the language,” Outman said. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t have.”
He understands why the Moroun family worked hard to stop the new bridge, estimating that the family pockets $34 million annually from the Ambassador Bridge and tax-free fuel pumps near it. Still, he believes the project makes sense for Michigan.
“With a new bridge you’re talking, immediately, 10,000 jobs, not counting the ancillary jobs that go along with it,” he said. “Why anyone would vote against this, I don’t know.”
Emmons was disappointed with the debate over the bridge that has raged for the past couple months. She blamed both sides for spreading “misinformation” and lamented that her committee probably didn’t hear the truth because people testifying about the issue were not under oath.
“I knew this (bill) was going to be so controversial and it really didn’t have to be this controversial,” Emmons said. “People got involved on both sides and really spent money and it became a life onto itself and it really shouldn’t have gotten to that point,”
Emmons disagreed with claims that she was initially against constructing a new international bridge and changed her mind.
“I went at this with a very open mind,” Emmons said. “It wasn’t that I was for or against it. I wanted to determine what was real and what wasn’t. I’m not sure we ever got to that point because we didn’t put people under oath.”
The final factor in vote was the fact that Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge, the only border crossing in Detroit that can handle truck traffic, is under private ownership and could be sold at any time to anyone with no say from local or state leaders.
“That’s a pretty significant issue for all of us,” Emmons said. “I knew my yes vote wasn’t going to make a difference only because there weren’t enough yes votes on the committee.”
The new bridge may not be completely dead with continued support from Snyder and other top Republicans in the Legislature. The bill could be sent to a different Senate committee more likely to pass it.
“You wont see (the bill) come back to the Economic Development Committee,” Emmons said. “It will have to be reworked. Ultimately, the best thing to happen here would be for the parties involved to negotiate, cooperate — however you want to phrase it.”
She believes the bridge issue will resurface and she hopes the project moves forward. She pointed out 65 percent of agricultural products grown and produced in Michigan go to Canada.
“You have a bridge that’s 80-plus years old and we need to move our goods,” Emmons said of the Ambassador Bridge. “With that said, I’m sure we won’t have to talk about that again right away and maybe that’s a good thing.”