Proposal 6: Governor Snyder and Canada vs. one billionaire bridge owner

Nov 4, 2012

On Tuesday, Michigan voters will decide on Proposal 6—a ballot question about “international bridges and tunnels.”

Though the ballot language doesn’t say it, it’s really a question about whether to go ahead with a long-planned—and highly-contested—new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

It’s a new electoral twist in a bitter struggle--with Michigan’s governor and Canada on one side, and a billionaire bridge owner on the other.

Proposal 6 would amend Michigan’s constitution, so that if the state ever wants to build a “new international bridge or tunnel,” the whole state--and each affected municip

ality--would have to first hold a referendum.

So basically, this means there would have to be a statewide and a local election if Michigan ever wants to build a new bridge to Canada—which, not coincidentally, our current Governor does.

And that means you’re seeing lots of TV ads like this one, all funded by the pro-6 group called “The People Should Decide:”

“Before politicians spend billions on a bridge, we deserve to have our voices heard,” the ad begins, before it segues into a series of people talking about Michigan’s “priorities:” “We need teachers, we need police. Firefighters, first responders…”

Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general, had this response to the ad:

“Canada will pay for a bridge. Those Canadian funds are not available to Michigan to pay for textbooks or police officers or firefighters,” Norton rebutted.

Norton appeared with Governor Rick Snyder at a recent town hall with the Canada-United States Business Association meeting in Detroit. They tried to convince that group—and everyone else—that Proposal 6 is a really bad idea.

Canadian officials desperately want a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. Norton calls the bridge Canada’s “number one infrastructure priority.”

And right now, there’s only one bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor—the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge. A quarter of all commercial traffic between the U-S and Canada—the world’s two largest trading partners—passes over it every year.

It’s owned by one man. Governor Snyder says that’s a problem.

“There is one special interest that has a near-monopoly on commercial traffic over the Detroit river,” Snyder said.  “And they’re making a lot of money.”

That “special interest” is the Detroit International Bridge Company—owned by billionaire trucking magnate Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

Moroun has poured more than $30 million into ads, trying to convince Michigan voters that a new bridge is a bad idea—and to vote yes on Proposal six.

But Governor Snyder charges that nearly everything in those ads is a lie. He says Canada will cover the cost of the project—leaving Michigan with no liability.

“This is an extraordinary offer,” Snyder said. “They’re gonna pay the cost for this project. That’s not normal, folks.”

Moroun has spent untold millions--in the state legislature and in the courts-- battling any new bridge proposal.

Detroit International Bridge Company President Dan Stamper said that’s because the whole idea of a new publicly-owned bridge is “fundamentally flawed.”

“It’s nothing more than an attack on a private-owned international crossing, especially from Canada,” Stamper told reporters. “And it’s worth the fight.”

But many see Proposal 6 as Moroun’s last-ditch effort to keep a competing bridge from ever being built.

And that infuriates Hugh Graham, who runs the Don Graham funeral home in southwest Detroit, near where the new bridge would be built.

“I mean God, don’t I wish I could put in a proposal to ban there any other funeral homes within five miles of me?” fumed Graham. “From my perspective, it drives me nuts.

“This sitting in limbo…it’s a killer. You know, we’ve been sitting watching this for what, 8 years now?”

Graham supports a new bridge—even though it would mean moving his business, and selling the current site to the state so it can become a freeway interchange.

It’s been a costly waiting game for Hugh Graham and other property owners in southwest Detroit—especially those in the neighborhood known as Delray, an economically-devastated, heavily industrial area that’s already lost lots of residents. Graham says many who remain are poor, elderly—and trapped in homes worth virtually nothing.

“This bridge, for an awful lot of people, could very well be a housing savior for them,” said Graham.  “As long as the state treats them properly.”

Governor Snyder has promised that “community benefits” are built into the new bridge agreement.

Jeffrey Baker is the pastor at Saint Paul AME church in Delray. He says that the longer this political battle drags on, the more people here are skeptical about the bridge project, its promised benefits—and whether proposal 6 will do anything to end the whole ordeal.

“So, we’re all in limbo. And we already have put in our minds, that whether the yes or the no wins, there’s gonna be a lawsuit right after that,” Baker said.

And lawsuits mean more uncertainty—and more waiting, possibly stalling the process for years to come.

Which Governor Snyder and other bridge supporters say might have been

Moroun’s game plan all along.