commentary
11:08 am
Tue October 25, 2011

New Detroit Bridge: Legislative Breakdown

There now seems to be an increasing likelihood that Governor Snyder may bypass the legislature and find another way to build a new bridge across the Detroit River. Late last week, a spokesman for the Ambassador Bridge Company said that would be outrageous.

He said it would be a perversion of the process to build a new bridge after the legislature said no. If that were the case, he might have a point. But that’s not at all what happened.

Instead, the legislature was prevented from voting at all by a three to two vote in one senate committee. Three Republicans voted not to allow the senate to vote on the bridge proposal, which was endorsed by their governor, every domestic automaker, and virtually every business interest in the state.

Except, that is, Matty Moroun, the private owner of the Ambassador Bridge, who wants no competition. The three Republicans who killed the bridge bill have all taken significant campaign contributions from the Moroun family.

If that doesn’t smack of corruption, give me another name for it.  Yet the public -- and the media -- have become so cynical about the way the system works there was very little public outrage.

Actually, that’s wrong. I said the way the system works. The problem is, it doesn’t work. If the governor cannot even get a vote in the legislature on a major issue, a legislature his party controls, we don’t have divided opinion. We have total dysfunction.

And the problem is even worse. The bridge bills would have gotten to the full Senate had the two Democrats on the committee voted for them. But they refused to vote at all.

That’s because they insisted, at the last minute, on adding a package of “community benefits” to the bill.

They ought to have known that the Republicans would never  agree to any such thing. So the two Democrats, both from Detroit, acted like spoiled four-year-olds who won’t play ball if the other kids won’t play exactly the way they want them to. As a result, the community they were so concerned about will get nothing. As it was, the bridge bills would have created thousands of jobs and poured tons of money into the largely derelict Delray community.

But apart from the travesty of the bridge saga, there’s a greater issue here: The inability of the legislature to reach a consensus for the good of the people, which used to be seen as the highest ideal.

This is even more pronounced on the national stage. President Obama yesterday announced new rules making it easier for people with high interest rates to refinance their home mortgages.

That will, however, affect only federally guaranteed loans. Why not ask Congress to approve legislation that would benefit all mortgage holders? Because the Republicans who control the House would never give the bill a hearing.

We’ve got members on both sides of the aisle who nearly risked putting the entire nation into default last summer because they were more willing to do that, than risk making the other party look good. I don’t know what the solution is to all of this.

Other, that is, to us waking up and demanding better of our elected officials. I only know we’d better find a solution, and soon.