May 31, 2009 at 1:00 am

Romney balks at government ownership of GM

Washington -- The Obama administration and the United Auto Workers should immediately distribute their stock in a restructured GM to American taxpayers, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Sunday.

"We don't want a president and the head of the UAW running General Motors," Romney, a Michigan native and son of former Gov. George Romney, said in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

Romney suggested that the roughly 70 percent of GM that the government could own after it emerges from bankruptcy should be immediately distributed to taxpayers, and the 17.5 percent that will go to a UAW trust fund for retiree healthcare should be handed out to UAW members.

Such a scheme is highly unlikely. The Obama administration has signaled that it wants to sell its stake as soon as possible, but wants to ensure that it recoups as much as possible of the billions of taxpayer dollars already pumped into the company. The UAW is likely to try to maximize the return it receives on its shares to boost its ability to pay for healthcare for retirees.

Romney repeated his criticism of the auto policies followed by both the Bush and Obama administrations, saying GM and Chrysler should have been pushed into a restructuring, either in or out of bankruptcy court, months ago.

A former Massachusetts governor, Romney grew up in Oakland County as his father served as a top executive at American Motors and later as governor. He won the 2008 Michigan GOP primary in a tough campaign against eventual nominee John McCain, a campaign that centered around who was best suited to help the auto industry recover.

"I'm a son of Detroit. My dad was an auto executive," Romney said. "I drive American cars, I love American cars. My heart bleeds for the people in Michigan, in Detroit, for all those auto workers.

"This is a very sad circumstance for this country, and it represents bad decisions by management, overreaching by the UAW. It's really tragic in a lot of ways, and it has not been well-played either in my opinion by the Bush administration or the Obama administration."

You can reach Gordon Trowbridge at gtrowbridge@detnews.com