GM incentive vote becomes early flashpoint in key Michigan U.S. House race

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Democrats are launching billboards Monday against state Sen. Tom Barrett, a GOP candidate in one of Michigan's battleground U.S. House districts, criticizing him for opposing economic development incentives that helped lure a $7 billion investment from General Motors.

The billboards say Barrett of Charlotte voted against "5,000 Michigan auto jobs." The advertisements could be a signal of the debate to come in the state's new 7th House District, located in the Lansing area, where Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, is seeking reelection.

Mary Barra, General Motors CEO, speaks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. General Motors is making the largest investment in company history in its home state of Michigan, announcing plans to spend nearly $7 billion to convert a factory to make electric pickup trucks and to build a new battery cell plant.

Barrett was a top Republican recruit and his race against Slotkin is widely expected to be close.

In December, he voted against bills to create an incentive program aimed at attracting large projects, including the GM investment in electric vehicle production, and against providing $1 billion to fund the program.

"Generations of Michiganders know what a new auto manufacturing facility means for their communities," said Elena Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). "When Tom Barrett had the chance to work with Republicans and Democrats to bring thousands of new manufacturing jobs and a new EV battery plant to mid-Michigan, he said no and turned his back on Michigan’s working families."

The GOP lawmaker, who announced his U.S. House campaign in November, has argued the state should be working to improve its overall business climate by investing in infrastructure and lowering energy costs, which he says would benefit all Michigan residents.

"For my entire life, the Democratic Party has claimed to be in favor of working families over big corporate interests, but when it really counts, it shows how unprincipled Democrats like Elissa Slotkin are," Barrett said. "They literally support taking tax dollars from small businesses, working and middle class families to pay nearly a billion dollars to one of the largest corporations in the world."

On Jan. 25, GM revealed its plans to expand its electric vehicle and battery production in Michigan, creating 4,000 jobs and retaining 1,000.

The state agreed to provide $666 million in incentives through the new Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund for the project. Officials also signed off on a tax exemption valued at $158 million.

As part of the plans, GM and battery partner LG Energy Solution will make a $2.5 billion investment near GM's Delta Township plant for a battery cell manufacturing site. That project would be in the new 7th District, where Slotkin and Barrett are running.

Slotkin, who was first elected to the House in 2018, attended the event in Lansing on Jan. 25 when GM announced its plan. Barrett did not.

The new billboards will appear near the state Capitol and in Potterville, according to the DCCC.

Michigan lawmakers unveiled plans for the SOAR Fund after Ford Motor Co. announced in September an $11 billion investment, along with 11,000 jobs, in Kentucky and Tennessee. Ford's decision left Michigan officials concerned about losing out on the electric future of the auto industry, a cornerstone of the state's economy.

Under the current program, money in the SOAR Fund can go only to the Michigan Strategic Site Readiness Fund and the Critical Industry Fund, which can be used to provide the incentives.

GM's package included $600 million from the Critical Industry Fund and $66.1 million from the Strategic Site Readiness Fund.

Barrett was one of 10 Michigan senators to vote against creating the incentive program.

cmauger@detroitnews.com