By JOHN FLESHER
TRAVERSE CITY — Democrat Virg Bernero said Tuesday that Republican rival Rick Snyder might try to sell the Mackinac Bridge if elected governor, drawing a quick denial from the GOP nominee.
Bernero seized upon a recent online news report that quoted Snyder as saying "everything is on the table" when asked during a radio interview program about selling the iconic bridge and other assets to help close the $1.6 billion state budget deficit.
"I am stunned that Rick Snyder would consider selling one of the symbols of the state," Bernero told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. The Lansing mayor then flew to a "save the bridge" rally near the northern end of the 5-mile-long bridge, which links Michigan's two peninsulas at the convergence of Lakes Michigan and Huron.
Snyder spokesman Bill Nowling dismissed Bernero's accusation as a desperate move by a candidate trailing in polls a week before the election.
"There's nothing to this at all," Nowling told the AP. "Rick has never said we're going to sell the Mackinac Bridge. He's not considering it. The words have never crossed his lips."
Nowling said Snyder's "everything is on the table" comment referred to the possibility of having private companies take over some services the state now provides. The question posed on the radio program, however, referred specifically to selling the bridge and other assets.
Selling the bridge would be "a one-time fix that doesn't address the structural problems in Michigan's budget," Nowling said. "It doesn't create more and better jobs."
Bernero said Snyder's denial didn't convince him.
"I believe he's serious about it," Bernero said. "He had a chance to state clearly that he wouldn't do it and he said everything was on the table."
Bernero said Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman and political newcomer, admired Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who pushed successfully to auction off that state's toll roads in 2006. Since then, the tolls have doubled.
"For once Mr. Snyder gave a detailed policy proposal and now his handlers are trying to cover it up," Bernero spokesman Cullen Schwarz said.
Rep. Bart Stupak, a Menominee Democrat whose district includes the bridge, said selling it "would only lead to increased tolls on residents and tourists."
Bill Baumann, a Mackinaw City retiree who acts as master of ceremonies when tens of thousands walk across the bridge on Labor Day, said the bridge is a proud symbol for the state and especially communities in the Straits of Mackinac area.
"To sell it would be like selling the Golden Gate or the Statue of Liberty or something like that," said Baumann, 80.