Commentary
10:47 am
Mon August 1, 2011

Carrying the Bridge North

For some time, I have been baffled by Governor Rick Snyder’s difficulty - make that, inability - to get the legislature to okay construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River.

His Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and last spring they okayed virtually everything the governor wanted, including a politically difficult proposal to tax pensions.

But he’s run into a wall with his proposal for a New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River.

Now we know part of the reason the governor is getting so much resistance. Matty Moroun, owner of the aging Ambassador Bridge, makes a lot of money by operating what amounts to a trade monopoly. The Moroun family has donated lavishly to the campaigns and causes of many legislators, mostly Republicans. He has also launched a considerable TV advertising campaign running new anti-bridge ads that independent analysts have called misleading, or just plain lies.

But that’s not enough to explain why, with the exception of Majority Leader Randy Richardville, few of the twenty-six Republicans in the Senate have endorsed the governor’s proposal - even though it would mean huge benefits for the state.

The bottom line is that the bridge proposal would cost the taxpayers nothing. Forget that we need this bridge to stay competitive in the future. Failing to approve it would cost Michigan billions, right now. And here’s why.

Approving the bridge would mean $2.2 billion dollars in federal highway matching funds for which we would not have to put up one dime. Canada has offered to lend Michigan $550 million dollars to cover our share of bridge costs. Governor Snyder, in a remarkable political coup, got Washington to agree to count that as federal highway matching funds. Normally we’d have to put up a dollar of Michigan money to get four dollars back from the feds. This way we don’t have to put up a thing; the Canadians, who need that bridge even more than we do, will do it for us. 

And we don’t have to pay Canada back until the bridge is built and Michigan starts getting its share of toll revenues. How can we turn that down?

There are many other things that make the bridge deal a no-brainer. While it would be jointly operated by the two nations -- as an international border crossing should be -- it would be built by private investors, and create more than ten thousand good paying jobs.

So why are so few people in favor of this deal? Because outside of the Detroit area, they don’t understand it. A few days ago, I spoke to a legal conference in Traverse City. One lawyer from Cadillac said, “I keep seeing these commercials saying “don’t build the bridge. But I don’t even know what the issues are.” Other out-staters voiced similar sentiments.

What this says is that the governor has a selling job to do, and not just by twisting arms in the legislature. His side needs to get out there with an ad campaign of its own, and the governor needs to get on the road and speak out - in Cadillac, in Traverse City, in Grand Rapids and Flint. If the legislature thinks the voters are on board, it should be much easier for Rick Snyder to turn them around.